Dave Bishop, MCFly’s biodiversity correspondent, on Ash Trees and Manchester…
A couple of years ago, persons unknown planted an Ash tree on Chorlton Ees. The tree is elaborately staked and mulched and protected with a rabbit guard – in an area with no rabbits! The ‘guerrilla planters’ probably thought that they were doing a good and noble deed by planting a tree and probably also thought they were doing something a bit defiant and radical by planting it surreptitiously.
If they had examined their planting site more closely, they would have found a number of interesting wild plants, including Yellow Rattle, Common Catsear and several different species of vetch including Grass Vetchling – a priority species for conservation in Greater Manchester. Several different species of wild grasses are also present. If the planted Ash ever reaches maturity (now a big if!) it will dry out the site and shade out all of the other plant species, thus reducing our local biodiversity. And if the planters had wandered just a few more yards beyond their planting site they would have seen that Chorlton Ees is currently being invaded by countless thousands of Ash seedlings. Up to now Ash has
been a prolific self-seeder and planting it has made as much sense as planting dandelions or nettles!
But if you have been paying attention to the news recently you will have seen that our Ash trees now face a deadly threat: ‘Ash Dieback’ disease – caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea – which has been creeping across Europe for some years now. In yesterday’s ‘Independent’ newspaper the distinguished tree and woodland expert, Peter Marren laid the blame fairly and squarely on the shoulders of the tree planters:
“Future generations might wonder who was to blame for the holocaust of our most graceful woodland tree. They might point a finger at the hapless, failed guardians of our woodland heritage, Defra and the Forestry Commission. They would be wrong. What is about to cause the worst disaster in woodland history is not so much law as love. Everyone loves a planted tree. We thought planting trees was the solution but it wasn’t. It was the problem.”
He explains that many of the tree diseases that are now running rampant in our countryside, such as Sudden Oak Death, Chestnut Canker and the disease which has devastated our wild Juniper populations, were probably brought in on imported trees, all to satisfy the, often irrational, obsession with tree planting. He castigates the Woodland Trust, who claim to be, “passionate about [tree] planting”. Ash Dieback has recently appeared on one of their Suffolk estates, in a plantation next to an ancient wood (!) He asks where their plantation trees came from; were they imported?
As it happens I wrote to the Woodland Trust, several days ago, asking the same question. I have had no reply.
I don’t know whether Manchester City Council have ‘put two and two together’ yet (?) but this Ash disease could represent a sort of ‘Hurricane Sandy in slow motion’ for both Manchester and other British cities. There are literally thousands of mature ash trees throughout the city (not counting millions of seedlings and saplings – see above). Many of these are in prominent positions where the presence of a dead tree will represent a serious hazard. I believe that felling mature trees can be very expensive – so it’s likely that Manchester could be facing a bill of many millions of pounds!
In a recent post on his blog entitled ‘Green and Blue‘ , Sir Richard Leese mentioned tree planting and, as usual, the implication was that it is a sort of universal panacea for all our environmental problems. I submitted a comment quoting ‘Bishop’s First Law’, i.e. ‘An organisation’s knowledge of, or concern for, its environment is inversely proportional to its propensity to plant trees.’ This was probably seen as facetious – but it’s based on several decades of observation and is deadly serious. I have come to believe that much
of the thoughtless tree planting that goes on is really about, simultaneously, both our culture’s disconnection from Nature and our need to control it.
Dave Bishop, 4th November 2012
[MCFly says – we will be making a youtube about “Bishop’s First Law”!]