Council approves plan to deal with disease affecting ash trees

East Ayrshire Council has approved a plan that will help to deal with a disease affecting ash trees which can pose a significant risk to safety where trees are next to roads, in parks and open spaces and next to power lines.

‘Ash Dieback’ was first discovered in Europe around 30 years ago and has devastated the European Ash. It was first recorded in the UK in 2012 and has spread prolifically through England. The disease is now established in Scotland and has been identified in East Ayrshire. It is spread by the spores of a fungus which are released into the atmosphere and can be blown great distances. The spores then land on the leaves, penetrate the leaf and go further into the tree, blocking the tree’s system of water movement and most often resulting in the tree’s death.

These dead trees can then create a real safety risk next to roads, power lines or in parks and open spaces. The Council therefore started identifying the locations of its ash trees and assessing their condition in July 2021, and discovered that ash trees represent approximately one tenth of the East Ayrshire Council and Ayrshire Roads Alliance tree population. 1,701 ash trees have already been found to have the disease at an advanced stage, making them a safety risk which either need to be monitored or felled.

Work is ongoing to identify and record the locations of all ash trees and this will continue annually. Where necessary, trees will be removed and replanting of different species will be carried out to reduce the negative impact on biodiversity.

All roads for which ARA has responsibility will need to be surveyed, and part of this survey will involve establishing the owners of diseased trees which are in private ownership. Guidance will be provided to owners to help them identify the different stages of the deterioration of the tree, so that they can assess whether any tree within their ownership needs to be dealt with if it poses a health and safety risk.

Due to the substantial costs involved in this process, councils intend to seek funding from the Scottish Government to tackle the national issue of Ash Dieback across Scotland, as the Scottish Government recognises the very real risk that these dead and dying trees will pose to human safety together with the economic and environmental impacts. Ayrshire Roads Alliance and Greener Communities have identified resources to undertake the inspections and tree felling over this financial year.

Councillor Neal Ingram, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Roads and Transportation, said: “Experts estimate that between 50 and 75% of all ash trees will sadly die over the next five to eight years due to this disease. It’s therefore vital that we have a plan in place firstly to maintain public safety, and also to help the environment by replanting different species. This is a huge undertaking and one that will be ongoing over the coming years.”