Rory Stewart MP has called for Cumbria to take the national lead in protecting our ash trees from Ash dieback disease. On Saturday, the local MP called a meeting of the Penrith and the Border forestry and woodlands ‘think-tank’ specifically to discuss the issue. The extensive conversation drew in representatives from the Forestry Commission, the National School of Forestry, the National Trust, the Lake District National Park Authority, Natural England, as well as local businesses such as AW Jenkinson’s and local silviculture and environmental experts Ted Wilson, Sir Martin Holdgate and Chris Starr.
The local MP has now written to the Secretary of State of DEFRA, Owen Paterson MP, proposing that Cumbria could take the lead in mitigating the spread of the ash dieback disease.
The Chalara Fraxinea fungus which causes ash dieback has decimated the ash populations on mainland Europe, and hundreds of cases of infected sites have now been found across the UK. Import and movement restrictions were placed on all ash seeds, plants and trees at the end of October when it was evident that imported trees had brought the fungus into the country in early March. Hundreds of staff from government agencies have since checked ash trees across the UK for signs of the disease during early November which has now allowed the Forestry Commission to produce a map highlighting distribution of the disease in known sites to date.
Speaking after the meeting, Rory said: “We are in a unique situation here in Cumbria to take the lead in this issue. We find ourselves in an isolated geographical position, with few reported cases of the disease and a significant distance from the current epicentre of the infection down in the southeast of England. Cumbria has examples of very rare and unique ash – some examples associated with ancient viking settlements – and we have already shown how monitoring and documentation through civic engagement is possible through the success of local osprey and red squirrel conservation work. We are also a great example of community action in general. All of this combined makes Cumbria the ideal location for a national test case pilot which would aim to record instances of ash outbreak, eliminate infected trees, create a clean area, and do all we can to delay arrival of the disease.”
“I have now written to the Secretary of State and will hopefully be meeting with him in the near future, to ensure this project is quickly up and running in time for next Spring when it becomes much easier to identify the disease’s presence in infected ash trees.”