Over 150 Forestry Commission staff, staff from the Scottish Government plant health team and contractors are currently working round the clock to carry out a countrywide assessment of ash trees in our forests and woodlands.
The five day rapid action survey, which started on Friday, is being taken to assess whether there is any indication that the Chalara disease is present in the wider environment.
Any ash trees flagged as ‘highly suspicious’ in the survey will be revisited within 24 hours by staff experienced in sample collection. Any samples taken are sent off for rapid laboratory analysis.
The unprecedented action is covering nearly 80,000 square kilometres and will be completed by 3pm on Tuesday 6th November. The information will then be used to inform the next steps in tackling the disease.
Paul Wheelhouse, Environment & Climate Change Minister said:
“The Chalara disease is a serious threat to Scotland’s precious ash trees.
“Although the species only represents less than one percent of Scotland’s net forest area, that seriously underestimates its importance as a hedgerow tree and as a component part of our native woodlands. It is therefore an extremely important native species in ecological and cultural terms.
“Currently we have just two confirmed cases of the disease in Scotland but we expect that number to rise as the rapid survey progresses.
“We need to take unprecedented action to get a quick snapshot of how our ash trees are fairing in the wider forest and woodland environment. We need to know this quickly and all involved have rallied together to quite literally work round the clock to obtain this information.”
In Scotland, staff worked tirelessly over the weekend to survey the vast area using GIS map information prepared using the high quality information provided by the Native Woodland Survey of Scotland which has been in progress over recent years. Scotland’s 80,000 square kilometres has been broken down into manageable 10 square kilometre squares for survey.
The surveyors are selecting four sites in each 10km2 and visiting each one and completing a data sheet on what they find. Where possible, photographs of any suspicious symptoms are also being taken to aid subsequent follow-up inspection by staff experienced in sample collection.
At the end of each day, staff are transferring the data into a central database within Forestry Commission Scotland. Samples from sites showing strongly suspicious symptoms are being prioritised for rapid laboratory analysis.
The results from the Scottish survey will be combined with similar surveys in England and Wales to help in considering the next steps in the management of Chalara dieback of ash throughout GB.
Notes to news editors
1. In order to prevent any unhelpful speculation, Forestry Commission Scotland will only comment on sites that are confirmed as having Chalara present.
Due to the urgency of the survey operation, and the fact that staff are moving rapidly and are focussed on this effort, we will not be able to arrange any filming/photographic opportunities.
2. Forestry Commission Scotland is part of the Scottish Government's Environment & Forestry Directorate www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
3. For news, events and recreation information log on to www.facebook.com/enjoyscotlandsforests. For Twitter: www.twitter.com/fcscotland.
4. Tha FCS ag obair mar bhuidheann-stiùiridh coilltearachd Riaghaltas na h-Alba agus a' riaghladh nan 660,000 heactairean ann an Oighreachd na Coille Nàiseanta, a' dìonadh, a' cumail smachd air agus a' leudachadh nan coilltean gus buannachdan a thoirt dha coimhearsnachdan, an eaconamaidh agus, ag obair an aghaidh atharrachadh gnàth-shìde. www.forestry.gov.uk/scotland
5. Media enquiries to Steve Williams, Forestry Commission Scotland press office, 0131 314 6508.