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Last modified: 23 November 2012
Image: Matt Patterson
Our woodland wildlife was already suffering before the ash dieback disease arrived on our shores; with 1 in 6 woodland flowers threatened with extinction, a 56% decline in woodland butterflies, a 86% decline of lesser redpoll, the list goes on and on...
13 per cent of the trees in broadleaved woodland are ash; they are an important part of our native woodland and hedgerows and areas with large numbers of ash trees are rich in wildflowers. They are hosts to a wide range of species, but are particularly important for fungi, invertebrates which live in dead wood, some lichens and other plants. Large, mature trees, with their assorted cracks and hollows, also provide valuable nesting sites for many woodland birds as well as roosting sites for bats.
However, it is very difficult at this stage to predict what impact this disease will have on the wooded landscape of the UK and Ireland. Nick Phillips, the RSPB’s forestry officer, ‘While it’s true that spores of this disease can be airborne, this is not the whole story. Science indicates that human movement of plants and plant material has been a key way this disease has spread across Europe. It’s critical that messages from Government help maintain public vigilance on this and other wildlife diseases. Blaming the wind as the sole disperser will not help.’
It is important to use this news as a way of alerting the public to the already poor condition of our existing woods. For centuries we have used woods for food, shelter and warmth. However, as this woodland management culture has declined, so have the varied woodland structures that wildlife needs to prosper.
Nick Phillips commented, “The introduction of invasive non-native species is a major threat to the UK’s animals and plants. Ash dieback is one example of this effect, but unfortunately it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Government must use this opportunity to develop effective regulation on species trade and movements, and to implement rapid detection and response mechanisms. As island nations, with strong international trading links, it’s imperative we, and our EU partners, act now.”
It is right that the attention of the Government, its agencies, conservationists and the public are focussed on dealing with this urgent issue, but in the long term we must treat this as a wake-up call. It is essential that we change the way we move animals and plants around the country and across international borders. Regulation must be put in place to ensure this does not happen again – our natural environment is too precious.
The RSPB is a major landowner. Over 8,000 of its 140,000 hectares of nature reserves are wooded. The charity is being vigilant on all its sites and closely monitoring for signs of the disease.