Ash Dieback – Chris Gilligan

tree08:36 Friday 8th March 2013
Bigger Breakfast Show
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

[P]AUL STAINTON: Researchers from Cambridge University are working with the Government to battle ash dieback fungus, a devastating disease that threatens our third most common broad leafed tree. Professor Chris Gilligan is here. Morning Chris.
PROF GILLIGAN: Good morning.
PAUL STAINTON: Now this is an incredibly bad disease for the ash tree, isn’t it?
PROF GILLIGAN: It is imposing a really serious threat I’m afraid for ash trees.
PAUL STAINTON: I read somewhere the other day that it could affect up to 90% of them.
PROF GILLIGAN: Potentially. We should know however that while it will infect the trees, we still don’t yet know how rapidly it will lead to the death of the trees. So that we can work on the spread, think about how rapidly it will move across the country. But some of the work that we will be involved in with other groups is then to work out just how quickly would we see the ash trees dying. And of course then looking to see whether or not we can do something to delay the spread. And also to think about breeding ash trees that will be resistant.
PAUL STAINTON: Right. So you’re unravelling the DNA of the disease, are you at the moment?
PROF GILLIGAN: No, the .. other groups are really unravelling the DNA, which will help us to understand very much how the infection proceeds. The work that’s being done in Cambridge is using mathematics to integrate the knowledge that we have got, in order to be able to predict again how rapidly the disease is likely to spread, where it’s likely to spread, and indeed where we might be able to deploy control locally, if not globally.
PAUL STAINTON: So working alongside these other groups, working with the DNA and the maths, is there a point at which you’re hoping you can get something to cure the disease, or is it just going to be about breeding it out?
PROF GILLIGAN: I think it’s unlikely that we will get anything that can cure the disease. There may be some compatibilities? for some limited use of casual control, but that really won’t be feasible over the large scale in the time available. It’s really looking at genetical control, and also in some specific cases for example looking at the movement of ash saplings to prevent the transmission of the disease on the saplings, which can help then to protect some areas of ash.
PAUL STAINTON: And what sort of timescale are we talking about here? Because obviously it’s important. It’s happening now, isn’t it?
PROF GILLIGAN: It is happening rapidly. It was first detected in Poland back in 1992, and spread right across the Continent of Europe in that intervening time. So that we accept that it will spread reasonably rapidly through parts of the UK, but not necessarily all of the UK.
PAUL STAINTON: OK. Well good luck with your work. Hopefully we can get it sorted soon, otherwise our countryside might look very different in the future Mr Andy Harper. We might be looking at various other trees, rather than ash if things continue.
ANDY HARPER: My garden will look very different. I’ve a very large ash tree on the border of our property, and it’s a splendid thing, attracts the birds of course, and the buds come out very early. It’s a remarkable guide to the seasons. And I just can’t imagine life with that tree not there to be honest.
PAUL STAINTON: No. All them people staring in, looking and pointing. “That’s Andy Harper. There look. Him!”
ANDY HARPER: There’ll be a gap in our hedge. And I don’t want it.
PAUL STAINTON: You don’t want that. “He’s in his undies!”.