Thursday, 17 December 2020
Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine
642. To ask the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine the estimated acreage of forestry affected by ash dieback disease; the costs incurred in implementing measures to counteract the spread of this disease; the further measures to be undertaken; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44398/20]
Following the first confirmed finding of the ash dieback disease in October 2012, intensive surveys for the disease have been conducted every year since. The surveys conducted in 2019 included a targeted survey of forestry plantations and a systematic survey of National Forest Inventory points across the country. By the end of 2019, there had been findings in ash in over 650 locations in various settings – forests, nurseries and garden centres, on farm planting, roadside planting, hedgerows and private gardens in all 26 counties.
Systematic surveys for ash dieback have continued during 2020. Since the late 1980s, the Department has approved the planting of over 16,000 hectares of ash. It is difficult to calculate the proportion of this area which is currently affected by ash dieback. A very low proportion of the ash population will exhibit tolerance to the disease (1% to 2%). However, given that the disease is now considered endemic in Ireland, the potential exists for most ash to eventually be affected by ash dieback disease to varying degrees of severity.
The national response to Ash Dieback has moved away from eradication of the disease in light of experience and scientific evidence that such an approach is no longer feasible. Previous reconstitutions scheme for ash dieback have cost in the region of €7m. A new Reconstitution and Underplanting Scheme (RUS) was launched in June this year and focuses on ash plantation management. This approach categorises plantations into three groups based on the plantation age and tree size. Different support options are available, depending on the category into which the ash plantation may fall.
My Department is actively supporting a number of research projects into the control and management of Ash Dieback disease, in particular projects with a key long-term focus of developing an ash tree breeding programme to identify trees that show strong tolerance to the disease and the genetic basis for tolerance. In this regard, a five-year project was begun in 2013, the aim of which has been to identify individual trees of ash which show tolerance to Ash Dieback and to use them for possible future breeding work and DNA screening by other institutes.
The project, which was part funded by the Department, was carried out by Forest Research, an agency of the Forestry Commission in the UK. The project involves 48 hectares of trial plantings over fourteen sites in the east of England and the mass screening of some 155,000 ash trees with fifteen different provenances from continental Europe, the UK and Ireland. Over 14,000 Irish ash plants from two distinct seed lots were included in the trials. These trials continue to be monitored by Forest Research, while scion material showing early signs of tolerance has been repatriated back to Ireland and incorporated into the Teagasc research effort.
The Department continues to closely follow similar work in Europe. Teagasc has collaborated with a number of European research agencies and has acquired and propagated ash genotypes which have been selected as putatively tolerant to ash dieback disease, having been observed as healthy over several years in infected locations with high tree mortality.
In 2020, with support from this Department under the Forest Genetic Resources Reproductive Material: Seed Stand & Seed Orchard, a collaboration between Teagasc and Coillte resulted in the establishment of the first conservation collection of putatively tolerant ash plants at a forest site in Co. Kilkenny. This planting will be monitored over the coming years in order to assess how tolerance of each genotype holds up.
Also in 2020, officials in this Department contributed to a COFORD Connect Note on ash dieback disease. This note provides a comprehensive background on the state of the disease in Ireland, and a strategy for generating sources of tolerant ash seeds and plants, and for mobilising this material for field planting. This note can be found at