Woodland Trust launches plan to map out 280 million UK trees to raise awareness of dangers from disease

As many as 280 million trees are being mapped out so that the Woodland Trust can successfully chart how plant diseases could eventually remodel our landscape and put native wildlife at impending risk.

The hazard posed by tree diseases including acute oak decline, Dutch elm and ash dieback, mean that their results, if left untreated, could alter the appearance of fields, hedgerows, and roadsides for generations to come, which is a worrying thought.

Discounting woodlands alone, trees help to establish a mainstay of the UK’s countryside nature systems by networking hedgerows and coppices, roadsides and ridges, as well as offering destinations for some of our spectacular birds of prey to nest, including the buzzard, red kite and hobby, while not forgetting the owls too.

The increase of chalara ash dieback becoming a more present risk to one of the greater countryside’s most vital trees has meant conservationists are monitoring the fortunes of the UK’s standalone trees.

The experts on hand at the Woodland Trust are piecing together a detailed map of 280 million trees throughout England and Wales so that they can observe the effects of any arboreal disease escalations in both forested regions, as well as across the broader rural landscape.

With no necessities for what seems to be an underestimated number of species of trees to be replaced, the Woodland Trust is apprehensive in regards to diseases such as ash dieback and how it might influence a change that we cannot undo.

But the Trust certainly are not taking this lightly, and as a response to these potential risks, the charity is introducing a pilot planting scheme, which will see 1,000 subsidised “disease recovery packs”, each featuring 45 native trees, go out for landowners to be able to plant in field edges, hedgerows, verges, and watersides across the UK’s countryside.

At present we have five English counties feeling the effects from the ash dieback disease. East Sussex, Kent, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Northumberland, are all included in this, and therefore have been selected to assist in piloting the scheme.

Woodland Trust director of conservation Austin Brady said: “What’s interesting about these trees in the wider countryside is that the majority will be native broadleaf trees, typically things like oak, ash, field maple and hawthorn, which are important not just for how the countryside looks but for wildlife too.

“A lot of these trees are quite old, so they are important habitat for everything from hole nesting birds such as owls and woodpeckers, roosting sites for bats, hosting all kinds of butterflies and insects and fungi that require mature trees.

“The difficulty with these trees in the wider landscape is there is no obligation on people to replace them if they die, so it’s a one-way ticket for many of these trees. In lots of hedgerows, field corners and roadsides, it’s difficult to imagine how these trees will get replaced.

“By the time people really notice the problem, we’ve almost left it too late to do something about it.”

Each tree the Woodland Trust are using in its recovery programme is one that is grown in the UK from fully traceable seeds collected in the UK and Ireland. These measures have been taken to avoid the importation of diseased trees.

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