This morning I spent a couple of hours learning about Ash dieback, and other Ash problems (notably emerald ash borer (sounds nice – is deadly!) and other tree problems. I was invited to attend a focus group (we were quite focussed actually) about how the public would react to various potential solutions to the problems posed by Ash die-back.
It was a little bit difficult to know what the problems with Ash dieback are. Will Ash trees disappear from the British countryside or will they not? Perhaps they will disappear from our towns and from Ash plantations, where the genetic diversity of the trees (mostly planted) is thought to be low, and maybe they will get a bit rarer in our woods, but maybe not very much rarer. It may (or may not) be that our native Ash are sufficiently genetically diverse that they will fight off the fungus in the way that disease resistance usually evolves.
I think I went into the room vaguely thinking that we were facing a new Dutch Elm disease and I came out wondering whether we were perhaps making too much fuss about it. Is this Ash-plague or just a sniffle?
I know I came out knowing more, but being less sure of what to do. Sometimes life is like that – if you persevere you usually come out the other side.
We, and we were a bunch of journalists, bloggers and authors, chatted around this issue with the help of some people who knew stuff. Should we consider GM-trees? Should we do nothing? Is it too late? How much would the different options cost? What are their chances of success? What about all those other diseases coming along for other species? Should we chalk Ash dieback down to experience and work harder to stop other diseases developing? Does anyone care?
All these questions were asked, and answered, although I’m not sure that the answers were necessarily the right ones.
I don’t know.
I do know that I was more impressed by where Defra is on this subject than I expected to be.