05 September 2023

Aberdeenshire Council to develop prioritised action plan to tackle growing issue of Ash Dieback Disease

Aberdeenshire Council is to develop a prioritised action plan to tackle the growing issue of Ash Dieback Disease.

It is now regarded as the most significant tree disease to affect broadleaved trees in the UK in recent years, damaging the tree’s internal structure and, in most cases, ultimately proving fatal.

Research by the Tree Council has estimated that the disease will lead to the decline and death of 50-75% of ash trees in Scotland within the next 20 years.

Ash trees are found across Aberdeenshire growing either planted or self-seeded on most types of land owned and managed by the council, from woodlands and parks to school and housing grounds and are found on road verges and vacant land.

Councillors on the Infrastructure Services Committee recently heard that although the full extent of tree numbers in the region is currently unknown, the removal of affected ash on council land alone is likely to be in the region of £500,000, with replacement planting incurring significant additional costs.

They were told that the greatest challenge in responding to the impacts of the disease is likely to be in relation to roadside ash trees.

There are an estimated 15,000 ash trees within falling distance of Aberdeenshire roads, many of which are mature or over-mature and would be costly to remove.

In the vast majority of cases these trees are growing within private ownership and, while the responsibility for management of these privately-owned trees remains firmly with the landowner, their location and the resultant potential risk to road users may result in the requirement for council intervention.

Aberdeenshire is not alone in being affected by the impact of this disease, with local authorities across Scotland now having to take action to respond to the challenge.

Due to the unique effects of the disease, infected and dead trees cannot safely be left as standing deadwood and the more pronounced the infection, the greater the health and safety risk and the more limited and costly removal options become.

In addition to supporting the development of an action plan, councillors also agreed that the appointment of a seasonal surveyor be considered as part of the medium-term financial strategy planning for 2024/25 to carry out additional survey work during May to October for two seasons to identify the presence of ash within council land and to chart the progress of the disease and identify priorities for action.

ISC chair Cllr Alan Turner said: “The development of a prioritised action plan for responding to the impact of ash dieback disease and early intervention to remove infected trees is critical to mitigate the negative impacts in Aberdeenshire.

“As a responsible local authority we will continue to undertake surveys of our ash population and will take prompt action to ensure their safe and timely removal. I would encourage all estates and landowners to do the same to quickly identify infected trees and take appropriate action to ensure their removal.”

Vice-chair Cllr Isobel Davidson added: “While our initial focus will be to respond to the impact of the disease and the management of infected trees, it is extremely important that a successful recovery phase is achieved through delivery of a comprehensive replanting scheme.

“We all know the wide-ranging benefits of trees for our landscape, environment and communities and it’s good to see careful consideration being given to replanting which not only aims to establish three new trees for each ash tree removed, but also using species which will thrive in future climate conditions.”