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Saving our native ash

Saving our native ash

Ash dieback, a fungal disease first identified in Ireland in 2012, is having devastating effects on ash populations nationally. It is expected that the disease will affect most ash trees in Ireland, causing the majority to die over the next two decades.

To put this into context, 15,897ha of grant-aided ash were planted between 1990 and 2013 – most of these are now vulnerable to loss, if not already. Given the scale of the challenge and potential financial loss arising, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine recently announced an additional €79.5m support package for farmers and landowners impacted by ash dieback disease, with payment rates of €5,000/ha available to impacted ash plantation owners.

Where to next for ash?

But this poses questions as to where to next for ash – an important species with strong ties to our heritage through our national game.

Led by Dheeraj Rathore, a Tree Improvement Researcher in the Teagasc Forestry Development Department, Teagasc researchers are focusing on saving our native ash trees from the invasive fungal pathogen, establishing a gene bank composed of genotypes of ash tolerant to ash dieback, with the aim of producing planting stock for forests and hedgerows in Ireland.

Dheeraj explained: “One of my research objectives is to breed ash, a native tree species to Ireland, for dieback disease tolerance. Research shows that between 5 to 10% of trees will have good tolerance to ash dieback disease, and with support from national and international partners, I am working towards finding those trees and bringing them into our breeding programmes.”

This research work centres on the identification of healthy trees, with a high level of tolerance to ash dieback, from which tolerant genotypes to the disease can be breed and produced. Teagasc commenced this research in 2015, but as tree breeding is a long-term process, further testing and screening is ongoing.

For more insights on Dheeraj’s research on ash dieback, watch the below video:

The video presented above was produced as part of the ‘10 Things to Know About…’ series, which aired on RTE and was produced by New Decade in association with EPA, the Higher Education Authority, SFI Research Centre in Applied Geosciences, the Irish Research Council, Met Eireann, the North Sea Research Programme and Teagasc.

More information on the ’10 Things to Know About…’ series is available on its website.

Further details on Teagasc research on ash dieback are available here.