National Tree Week – the plight of Kent’s trees

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Explore Kent

To mark National Tree Week which starts on Saturday November 23rd, Louise Butfoy and Tony Harwood who work in the Resilience and Emergency Planning Service within Kent County Council (KCC) tell us about the plight of the Ash tree which is set to change the landscape within Kent dramatically within the next decade.

National Tree Week runs from 23 November to 1 December, marking the start of the winter tree planting season. The South East remains a stronghold for woodland in the UK and in Kent we have more surviving ancient woodland than any other county, but species such as the Ash have been suffering from disease at a time when we need to restore lost tree cover to help tackle the climate and ecological crisis that we all face.

News reports this week have highlighted a new hope for the future of our Ash trees. Ash Dieback is an invasive fungal pathogen, accidently introduced into Europe in the 1990’s. The disease quickly kills smaller trees and makes larger trees susceptible to lethal secondary infection such as the Honey Fungus.

Ash Dieback -what is it?

The European Ash is Kent’s most widespread tree, recorded in 89% of the County. It is a characteristic and attractive component of our landscape and supports lots of wildlife, with some 112 invertebrate species and 255 lichens known to live in or on the tree. With Ash Dieback, it is the young trees which are particularly affected, causing big concerns about the next generation, while the death of older trees is increasing at a faster pace than normal.

Kent County Council has undertaken annual ash dieback surveys since 2013. Analysis from this summer’s surveys indicate that a ‘tipping point’ has been reached and the outbreak has now intensified and become county-wide.

There is no treatment currently available to either prevent or cure Ash Dieback, although as reported in the news this week, new research is providing a glimmer of hope. This has been undertaken by Prof. Richard Buggs of The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew who has recently isolated the part of the Ash genome which confers resistance to the disease. Kent County Council has contributed to this research, which we hope will eventually provide a solution on the ground for our Ash population.

Aside from the loss to our wildlife and landscape, in our towns Ash Dieback can result in dangerous standing dead wood, but the loss of Ash trees also means increased flood risk and more air pollution.  This is also at a time when we need more trees across the UK to capture atmospheric carbon.  England only has 10% tree cover, while the average for continental Northern Europe is a remarkable 45%.

Further, only 1,420 hectares of trees were planted in England in the year to March 2019, against the Government’s target of 5,000 hectares. Research by the Committee on Climate Change states that the UK is required to plant 30,000 hectares (1.5 billion trees) every year if we are to meet our net-zero carbon target

It is therefore vital that we all do whatever we can to safeguard all our precious trees and woodland and to restore tree cover. We can all help by encouraging friends, family and colleagues to first and foremost protect existing trees and woodland, closely followed by planting a tree, whether this be in a garden, the grounds of a workplace, school or college or in consultation with your local Council within your neighbourhood.

Woodland can be left to regenerate naturally or can be given a helping hand by collecting and planting seed from local native trees and shrubs. These seeds can then be grown-on in pots or just planted straight into the ground. A number of free or subsidised tree schemes exist and may be accessed online these include Woodland Trust and The Community Volunteering Charity. KCC Highways also operates an innovative scheme whereby local amenity groups and residents can sponsor the planting of a new street tree in their neighbourhood. Trees growing in the highway can have a pollution-busting role and bring shade and wildlife into urban areas.

Help boost Kent’s Tree Population

To request a new street tree is planted you can log your request selecting ‘trees – tree planting request’ from the alphabetical drop-down list. Costs per tree range from £280 in a grass verge to £540 when a new tree pit is required in a footpath. The cost includes a weld mesh cage, watering and guarantee for one year.

National Tree Week is also offering an opportunity to be a tree angel this Christmas by partnering with the Daily Mail to help plant as many as a million trees across the UK during Tree Week and in the run up to Christmas.

By taking a proactive part in tree planting, you will be helping to ensure that Kent remains one of the most densely wooded counties in the UK, and even help to reintroduce healthy Ash into the landscape.

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