One of the most common plants in our garden is the ash tree, Fraxinus Exclesior, a fast growing native hardwood. The owner of the garden loathes them, but I’m letting them grow just about wherever they chose to self-seed, or wherever the bird poo carrying them lands. I’m doing this because I like them, and because they grow fast and give good quality wood which I may be able to use in three years, but also because recently a fungus called Chalara fraxinea has come from goodness knows where and seems to like eating them. Alarming numbers of ash trees are dying off all over Germany.
Until February this year there was some hope that the UK would be spared: as long as no ash trees from the continent were brought in the fungus may not make it over the channel. Unfortunately no-one told the politicians this (or if they did, the politicians didn’t want to hear it) so they allowed the trees to be imported and exported, and Chalara fraxinea turned up as well. In several places.
The brilliant minds of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), formed ‘Emergency Committee Cobra’ which has come up with such gems as “everyone should be responsible”. and advise people visiting forests in the UK to “Wash your hands afterwards“. Thanks for that.
According to this very comprehensive post on the Ubiqitous Blog this is nothing new: scientists have been repeatedly ignored when their concerns may inconvenience some corporate interest, and one who was asked to investigate a similar fungal attack on trees in a park had a gagging order placed on them to prevent them saying where the outbreak may have come from.
At the same time, the Environment Secretary (who supports a third runway at Heathrow, a badger cull and fracking, but dislikes wind farms, just as an aside) has suggested that the current outbreak of fungus causing ash dieback is ‘possibly just wind borne’, which is interesting because two weeks ago a forester in Germany old me no-one is sure how the fungus spores are transported.
Which would mean that in the UK, a scientist commissioned to investigate an outbreak of fungal based dieback cannot publish his or her findings for fear of legal repercussions, but a politician known to support corporate interests over the environment can make statements which happen to match up with the desires of the industry to keep going as usual, and that’s okay.
Is this a very strange situation, or am I missing something?
[Edit: Check the comments. It appears Ash seeds are wind blown rather than carried by birds. Thanks Kim.]