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Ash dieback project launches International Year of Plant Health - Defra

The Ash Archive initiative is a major step towards maintaining and restoring ash in the British landscape.

Three thousand trees have been planted in Hampshire as part of a pioneering project to tackle the devastating tree disease, Ash Dieback.

Ash tree leaves. Credit: Forestry Commission.
Ash tree leaves. Credit: Forestry Commission.

The UK’s first Ash Archive has been established using £1.9 million of government funding and is the culmination of projects spanning 5 years to identify ash with a high tolerance to the disease.

The archive is a major step towards maintaining and restoring ash in the British landscape. It is intended that it will provide the basis for a breeding programme of tolerant ash over time and will enable the development of orchards producing commercially available seed.

Today (17 January 2020), the government’s Chief Plant Health Officer will visit the project to plant one of the last trees in the archive. The ceremony marked the beginning of the International Year of Plant Health – a global initiative to raise awareness on the importance of healthy plants and trees to protecting nature, the environment and boosting economic development.

Ash dieback is a highly destructive disease which was first identified in the UK in 2012. The fungus penetrates the leaves of ash trees, before growing inside the tree eventually blocking its water transport systems and causing it to die. Spores of the fungus travel in the wind, meaning the disease spreads easily and making it difficult to limit its impact. However, projects to identify trees which are tolerant to the disease mean that the population could recover over time.

New maps reveal hotspots of seabird activity during breeding season - RSPB Scotland

  • The RSPB has used hotspot mapping techniques to learn more about the life of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags as they forage at sea during the breeding season.
  • Seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds globally and many seabird species are declining at an alarming rate in Scotland. Conservation efforts are needed to halt declines and restore our internationally important populations of seabirds.
  • The new maps will be hugely important as they identify the most important areas at sea for seabirds, providing the vital information needed to make informed decisions on how we can best protect them.
Scientists at the RSPB have produced new maps identifying, for the first time, the location of marine hotspots for some of our most threatened seabirds, based on tracking data.
Razorbills and a Puffin (image: Nicolas DC on unsplash)
Razorbills and a Puffin (image: Nicolas DC on unsplash)

A five-year RSPB project previously tracked the movements of kittiwakes, guillemots, razorbills and shags from colonies around the UK during the breeding season. This is an important time for seabird colonies as parents search for food to feed their young. The RSPB has now applied hotspot mapping techniques to these data to identify the most important areas used during this crucial time.

The four seabird species are all classed as Birds of Conservation Concern; guillemots and razorbill are Amber-listed while shag and kittiwake are both Red-listed due to their serious population declines. These seabirds are found in internationally important numbers in Scotland but are under threat from climate change, which is causing a reduction in the availability of their food, and also from human activity.

The new research, published in the journal Biological Conservation, demonstrates the large areas of sea used by seabirds and comes at a time when there is a vital need to understand more about them as decisions are being made relating to fishing, offshore wind farms and how we can best protect our seas.

The mapping reveals that for kittiwakes, guillemots and razorbills, the importance of the Scottish coast (particularly the East coast) was apparent. For shags, hotspots were smaller than observed in the other three species and were typically found in inshore coastal waters centred on the locations of their breeding colonies.

The results highlight the importance of large areas of Scottish waters for breeding seabirds demonstrating the urgent need, alongside effectively managed protected areas, for strategic, spatial marine planning and standardised industry-level regulations, to protect wide-ranging seabird species particularly in the context of increased efforts to decarbonise energy generation in Scottish waters.

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