In mid June we surveyed all the ash trees in Lag Wood to see how many were affected by Chalara Ash Dieback. We found 102 ash trees showing symptoms of the disease. This represents nearly a quarter of the ash trees and ash coppice stools in the wood and shows a considerable rate of advance for the disease considering that we first identified it here on a few re-growing coppice stools in summer 2016.
Chalara is fatal to a large majority of ash trees but there is some natural immunity and, even when infected, not all ash succumbs to the disease. Estimates of survival rates vary depending on the density of ash in any given location. Mixed woodlands like ours tend to show slower rates of infection.
With no reliable means of prevention and no cure, our options for managing the disease are extremely limited. We expect a very large proportion of our wonderful ash trees will die in the coming years.
We have already felled ash where we felt they posed any risk to the railway line. We may also fell ash where public rights of way could be affected. But in other instances we feel we have few options except to let nature take its course. Ash makes up over a quarter of the larger trees in Lag Wood and nearly a half of the woodland canopy. The character of the wood will change significantly over time, and there is no doubt that there will be an impact on species because ash supports such a diverse community of plants and insects.
However, the gradual thinning of the canopy will allow more light and warmth into the wood. After coppicing here for five seasons we know something about how the wood will react. Wildlife friendly tree species like hawthorn, field maple and hornbeam will be the main beneficiaries. We will also see the regeneration of birch, aspen and, most welcome of all, oak seedlings. Ash itself will also continue to regenerate and a few of those seedlings will have greater immunity to Chalara.
We are adjusting our coppicing plans. We are likely to avoid coppicing any more healthy ash and we may put greater emphasis on rotational Hazel coppice. We will keep up our use of temporary deer fence to protect regrowth and continue to monitor the progress of Chalara and how the wood is responding to it. It is a poignant and melancholy moment for us as it is for all those who love woodlands. But it is by no means a disaster for the wood as a whole. If you’ll forgive the pun, a new beautiful Lag Wood will emerge over time from the ashes.