Savernake Forest's ash trees are suffering widely from 'ash dieback' disease

Written by Tony Millett on .

The disease known as 'ash dieback' or 'Chalara dieback' is affecting many trees in Savernake Forest.  The Forestry Commission, which leases and manages the Forest, is well aware of the problem.
The environmentalist and political activist George Monibot has raised awareness of the extent to which the disease is affecting Savernake Forest.  On Sunday evening (July 8) he tweeted: "Spent the weekend in Savernake Forest.  Almost every ash tree I saw there is showing signs of dieback.  A few have no leaves at all.  It's happening faster and further than I feared."

Ash trees are Britain's third most abundant tree - after oak and birch.  So a total loss of ash trees would have a major impact on the landscape and on the ecology of the country.  However, some ash trees are resistant to the disease.  On the other hand young trees can be wiped out quite quickly. 

Monbiot continued:  "Elms - gone, horse chestnuts - on the way, ash - dying off at shocking speed. And still we don't have the import controls required to prevent more tree species going the same way."

This disease has been found to spread naturally - on the wind and via seeds carried by birds.   Ash dieback is a fungal disease that has spread westwards from central Europe. 

The disease damages vital water supplies within trees leading to loss of leaves and finally to dieback in the crown of the tree.   Signs to look for are wilting leaves which then die off, lesions on the tree's trunk and bare branches at the crown of a tree.

The disease was first found in Britain in 2012.  A control order was then imposed on the movement of ash trees and import of saplings. There is some first hand evidence published on social media that it is not being well policed. But a great deal of research is going on to find resistant strains of ash tree.

The Forestry Commission told  “Ash dieback is present in all counties in Britain and we know it is affecting ash trees in Savernake Forest."

"We are monitoring and managing the trees in line with the science-based national strategy, international best practice and the advice of the UK Chief Plant Health Officer."

"We expect most of our Ash trees to become infected with Ash dieback, but not all will die.  Natural tolerance to the disease does exist and the UK is leading the way on working to identify tolerant strains."

And the Forestry Commission points out that visitors to Savernake Forest can help stop the spread of this disease:  "Ash die back is a fungal pathogen of Ash trees native to Asia and can spread via windborne spores and the movement of infected material such as trees, soils, seeds and leaves, members of the public can play a part in helping limit the spread of tree diseases by cleaning boots, buggies and bicycles of mud and debris in between woodland visits.”   

You can report outbreaks of ash dieback by phone to 0300 067 4000 or by email to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.     Photos taken in Savernake Forest on 11 July 2018.