18 January 2013: The Environmental Pillar, a coalition of 26 national environmental groups, is calling for the government to adopt a new set of measures to control ash dieback disease and to limit the very serious economic and environmental problems resulting from its introduction to Ireland.
Ash dieback is a fungal disease that kills ash trees. It spread to Ireland when infected ash trees were imported from other parts of Europe. It was first reported in Ireland in late 2011 and has now been identified in 22 locations in ten counties.
‘It is a very serious threat to our native ash trees,’ said Andrew St Ledger, spokesperson for the Environmental Pillar.
‘The spread of ash dieback disease will have a major impact on biodiversity and hydrology, as well as on the supply of ash for hurley making and for fuel. Recent measures taken by government, whilst welcome, are very late and not nearly sufficient, when you take into account the fact that the disease was first identified on the European mainland ten years ago,’ he continued.*
One of the key measures proposed by the Environmental Pillar is a comprehensive national survey of ash trees, carried out this spring using all available resources including environmental groups. They are also calling for a public information campaign, initially on ash die-back disease, but subsequently on other significant tree diseases, such as sudden oak death. The Environmental Pillar also recommends the creation of a new, all-island tree cover agency to deal with issues such as this.
Another key proposal to reduce the likelihood of importation of diseased trees is a shift in forest policy to prioritise Ireland’s native tree species. Specifically, the Environmental Pillar recommends the provision of support for tree nurseries to grow native trees for the phased conversion, where appropriate, of non-native forests to mixed species native forests, and an education and training programme to implement this policy.
The Convention on Biological Diversity, to which Ireland is a signatory, clearly states how native forests are better adapted and better able to deal with the effects of climate change, a key factor in the increase of plant pests and diseases now being identified globally**.
Hurley making in Ireland sustains an estimated 400 plus full-time jobs and has been described as ‘one of the last of our true cottage industries’. Currently over 70% of the 350,000 hurleys used each year are made from imported wood. Strong policies to protect and expand Ireland’s harvestable ash forests, combined with an existing push to buy Irish ash hurleys, could create an additional 800 jobs for hurley makers in years to come.
** For reference see http://www.cbd.int/climate/intro.shtml