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Ash disease 'catastrophe' for UK biodiversity

AN MMU expert has warned that the deadly ash dieback disease could have catastrophic consequences for UK biodiversity.

Dr Robin Sen, a reader in soil microbial ecology and biotechnology, at the School of Science and Environment, says the loss of millions of ash trees is a massive blow to biodiversity and ecosystem services at a time of increasing pressures linked to climate change. 

Appearing on BBC1’s six and 10 o’clock Sunday evening news programmes to highlight the threat of ash dieback, Dr Sen explained that the disease is caused by a fungus, Chalara fraxinea, which has spread through Europe killing up to 80% of ash trees in the last decade.

Diseased trees are rapidly defoliated and there appears to be limited host resistance to fungal infection, he said.


The importation of ash tree seedlings from Dutch forest nurseries may have been the trigger for spread of the disease to mature ash trees in East Anglia but alternative routes into the UK through international trade in wood products cannot be discounted.

The government has now imposed import and movement bans which has sparked fierce debate around the poor administration of bio-security measures and controls on imported food crop and tree species.

A worst case scenario estimate, suggests the loss of 80 million trees.

Robin said: “Together with oak and beech, ash is a common sight in woodlands across the UK.  As such, the loss of this species would have catastrophic consequences for UK biodiversity and ecosystem services at a time of increasing pressures linked to climate change.”  


Dr Sen, who has extensive experience of working in forest ecology and pathology in Finland and Iceland before moving to MMU, is greatly concerned at the loss of forestry and, particularly, mycology from British university curricula which he feels has negatively impacted on R&D capacity in the UK.

He is currently working with the Forestry Commission on developing low-input sustainable production of nursery Scots pine tree seedlings that involves novel application of beneficial root symbiotic mycorrhizal fungi.

- The School has recently expanded into a new branch of biodiversity, adding the Masters, Diploma and Certificate in Biological Recording, the last courses of their kind in the UK.