PARISHES are being urged to check their churchyards for any
signs of the fungal disease that is threatening Britain's ash
The manager of the charity Caring for God's Acre, Sue Cooper,
said: "You will find ash in churchyards, but usually only in a
naturally wooded part, or hedgerows where it has self-seeded.
However, that does not mean we should not be vigilant in trying to
stop this fungus spreading."
The infection Chalara fraxinea, (ash dieback), which
causes bark and leaves to wither and die, is already
well-established on the Continent, and at least 82 sites have been
discovered in East Anglia and the south-east, and seven in
Scotland. No treatment exists; so the fungus poses a serious danger
to the estimated 80 million ash trees in the UK.
Several dioceses have already asked those responsible for church
open spaces to carry out checks after first looking at the advice
posted on the Forestry Commission's website, www.forestry.gov.uk.
Any suspect trees should be reported to the diocese and to the
The website for Oxford diocese warns: "If you find no signs of
infection, this does not mean that your trees will remain
unaffected in the long term. Monthly inspection is recommended
until further guidance is received from the Government."
The planting of ash trees in churchyards was actively
discouraged in the 17th and 18th centuries, as the tree had
associations with folk remedies that stretched back to
pre-Christian times. "Elm was popular in the 18th century, and lime
and horse chestnut were popular with the Victorians," the
vice-chair of the Church's environmental group Shrinking the
Footprint, the Revd Nigel Cooper, said. "In the 20th century, it
was flowering cherries.
"Ash trees are in the minority in our churchyards, but that is
not to say we should not be concerned."
The Christian environmental and nature conservation movement A
Rocha is asking people to send it photos of suspect trees to pass
on to DEFRA and the Forestry Commission. "With many parishes
looking for more natural wooded churchyards, ash often get
established in more out-of-the-way corners," the group's UK
conservation director, Andy Lester, said. "Churches could be
primary contaminants. They can act as a store or source for the
disease to spread. We are about to survey London's Anglican
churchyards, and I wouldn't be surprised if we found ash in
two-thirds of them."
The Forestry Commission is burning infected trees found in
concentrated locations, such as nurseries, but not individual ones
discovered in woodland. There, it imposes strict bio-security,
banning the movement of felled wood and asking people to clean
tools, vehicles, and clothing after contact.
A Church of England spokesperson said: "We understand the
concerns about the recorded outbreak of Chalara dieback
which affects ash trees. Traditionally, yews and elms have
flourished in our churchyards, but, of course, where we have ash
trees, we would be on the lookout for any signs of disease."