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Innovation, Education and The Fight Against Tree Disease

Decoding Nature

After a long-delayed spring this year, the recent flowering season has seen the return of Ash Dieback into the news. This tree disease continues to be a foremost threat to UK woodland. There seems to be solutions on the horizon after scientists at Edinburgh’s  School of Biology were able to get closer to unravelling the genetic code of the disease this year.  Their research involved collaborations with scientists in mainland Europe – also heavily affected by the disease. It is this “joined-up” approach which seems to have yielded the most fruitful results in tackling the major threat to our woodland today.

Cloning the Great Survivors

The subject of biological cloning – in any species – has always been a contentious subject for many, particularly amongst Naturalist and Environmental circles. That is until recently, where there has been growing research into the possibilities of cloning “Super Trees”. Some of our oldest, and most resiliant trees – such as the famous 1000 year-old Major Oak in Sherwood Forest (of Robin Hood-fame) – are now seen as shining examples which have exhibited remarkable resistance to diseases through the ages. With the well-documented rampage of Ash Dieback disease and the recent spread of Oak Processionary Moth – toxic to people and animals – as well as the pressing need to help counteract climate change, many see the invitation to harness the power of this DNA as a solution that’s arrived just in time.

Education as Best Medicine

A recent campaign by the Woodland Trust has urged the importance of greater public education regarding trees and identification of different species in UK woodland. From the point of view of tree specialists, this is welcome news. It’s likely that many people won’t recognise and report problems such as suspected tree disease in their back garden until it’s obvious – and therefore advanced. So a campaign for public awareness will help highlight problems at the early stages. This increases the chances of preventing the spread of the disease.

With Ash dieback being such a significant threat to woodland, The University of East Anglia’s Adapt Low Carbon Group have created the Ashtag phone app. This allows people to geotag and submit pictures. Geotagging is when geographic co-ordinates are attached to a photo so you can find where it was taken on googe earth, for example. These are then reviewed in association with the Forestry Commission. This sharing of information proves to be an invaluable tool for tree experts and the public alike. Members of the public should get involved and help this become the future of managing serious tree diseases across large geographic regions.

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