Ash Dieback on the Quantock Hills

Road closure between Park End and Cothelstone

Some of you may have seen that the road between Park End junction, by Lydeard Hill, and the Five Ways junction by Cothelstone Hill has been closed. This is because of a major tree felling operation because many of the ash trees that line this road have been infected by Ash Die Back. It is hoped that the road will be reopened by Monday 26th October.

Ash Dieback is having a significant impact on the trees and woodlands of the UK. The disease is highly destructive of the native common ash tree and was first reported in the wider environment in 2012. Since that time, it has spread and is now present in most of the UK.

On the Quantock Hills ash trees in the wider environment were first identified with symptoms of ash dieback in 2017 but the rate of infection and decline in tree health was very limited. However during regular inspections this spring and summer Rangers from the Quantock Hills AONB Service noticed significant ash dieback in the trees along side the road at Cothelstone Hill and in other ash dominated woodland in the south of the Quantock Hills. At Cothelstone Hill the rate of infection was estimated to be abut 60%, whereas a year earlier it was only 10%.

At Cothelstone Hill, following Forestry Commission advice, the AONB Service will be looking to fell the infected trees that are near the roadside due to the increased risk of those trees falling or dropping into the road and causing harm to road users. Due to the complexity of felling large trees on the roadside this will require the road to be closed for approximately 3 weeks this autumn.

Iain Porter, Development Officer, said “This is a concerning time for woodland managers and the prevalence and pace of ash dieback has been unprecedented. While it is disappointing to have to fell these trees it does give us the opportunity to plant a different mix of native trees to increase the resilience in our woodlands. The works have been planned to reduce the disruption to road users and visitors to Cothelstone Hill however due to the complexities of felling large trees on the roadside it will mean the road has to be closed for a period.”

Other landowners are having to deal with ash dieback in their own woodlands, and like Cothelstone Hill, where there is a health and safety risk to the public are having to fell their trees. This will envariably change the landscape of the Quantock Hills and the AONB Service along with partners is looking at increasing tree planting in existing woodland settings to ensure the resilience and continuality of our woods into the future.

Ash is one of the UKs most useful and versatile native tree species, providing valuable habitat for a wide range of dependant species. It can grow in a variety of soils and climate conditions and due to its ‘airy’ leaves and foliage allows light to penetrate to the woodland floor, encouraging ground plants and animals. Experience indicates that ash dieback can kill young and coppiced ash trees quite quickly. However, older trees can resist it for some time until prolonged exposure, or another pest or disease, attacking them in their weakened state eventually kills them.

Members of the public can help minimise the spread of ash dieback and other diseases by brushing soil, mud, twigs, leaves off their footwear and wheels before leaving a woodland site. They can also park on hard surfaces, such as tarmac, concrete or gravel, rather than soil and grass surfaces.