There have been other crises, such as BSE and foot and mouth disease, but they have centred more on the farming community and the implications for human health and the economy, and they have resulted in strict regulation on disease and movement control on animals. Until now, there has been casual interest by government and, sadly, most of the public, when a threat to plant and tree life has been discovered. Even after the ravages of dutch elm disease some forty years ago, little was done to put in place the controls necessary to protect our countryside from future damage from pests or fungi beyond our shores. It has gone unnoticed that, for years, our native oak trees and larches have been affected seriously by imported diseases and it is only now, as one third of our tree life – the ash - could be lost, that there is proper recognition the importance of our trees.
We know now that ash tree dieback was discovered in England thirteen years ago, before it took hold, and after this passage of time it is established and cannot be eradicated. Having written not so long ago about my sadness at the cutting down of a beautiful grand ash near my home to accommodate a telegraph pole, my first reaction to the news of the disease was concern, but now I am more accepting of the situation – indeed, I cannot be anything other than accepting. I see that it is, at last, an opportunity for regulators to ensure proper checks on the import and movement of all plant imports from abroad are made, just as there are for animals; the welfare of the countryside may be given proper priority at last; and that this is nature speaking and this is nature’s choice, and nature will decide how she will deal with it.
Because, fortunately, it appears mature ash trees will not be cut down even if ash tree dieback is found nearby, it is likely that some at least will survive and develop a resistance to the fungus which will protect the trees to come. These sacred trees will be fewer for a while and so all the more precious, but, like the elm, they will live on. Nature adapts perfectly.