May 08 2018

Fighting Ash Die Back at Hedley Hall

Fighting ash dieback

Like other volunteer groups, after several years of working through the seasons, getting to know our wood and its wildlife, we’re pretty attached to it.

So when ash dieback hits, it is hard to stand helplessly by, watching the disease progress through the wood, wondering what its future will be. How heartening, then, to be able to contribute positively.

Last week the Hedley Hall woodland volunteer group was out on site with Matt Combes, a PhD student with Forest Research. We were learning more about the disease and getting some training and instruction so that we can be part of his research project.

Matt is studying the impact of weather conditions on the formation and spore release of the fungal fruit bodies of the ash dieback pathogen. At Hedley Hall, he had set up four plots, divided into grids, with 25 ash leaf rachises (leaf stalks) from the surrounding area placed in each grid square.

Our job is to collect the rachises from one grid square in each of the plots and post them off to Matt every couple of weeks, along with a soil sample, for the next six months. He also has temperature and moisture monitors set up on the site, and can use the data to track the conditions close to the plots, through the season.

Without the group, his work would not be possible – Matt is based at Forest Research’s centre in Alice Holt, Hampshire, and the wood is in the north east of England, so it’s a long trip for him to visit. It’s is just one of 8 of sites where he has located plots to study, and they are spread all around the country.

We first started to notice ash dieback at Hedley Hall a couple of years ago, but now it looks as though it has probably been there longer. Most of the site was planted between 1991 and 1995, and the species mix contained around 30 per cent ash, so the pathogen will have a significant impact. Finding out more about how local conditions affect the spread of the disease could help the Woodland Trust and other woodland owners decide how best to manage sites in future.

Most of our work to date at Hedley Hall has been coppicing, thinning, or other habitat management, so this is a new departure. We don’t really need an excuse to visit this lovely site, but the research project will mean going there throughout the summer, as the bluebells and other flowers come and go, and into early autumn. It’s all part of creating a deeper connection with a place that is already special to us.

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