To date, 36 forestry plantations have tested positive for the disease, all planted with imported stock. The disease has also been confirmed at 15 horticultural nurseries, 13 roadside landscaping projects, 13 farms (REPS/AEOS), 3 garden centres and 2 private gardens.
As a precautionary measure in order to reduce the potential spread of the disease, my Department has written to approximately 175 forest owners instructing them to remove and destroy all ash trees from sites where the disease has been confirmed, as well as from sites where the disease has not been confirmed but was planted with trees from known infected consignments. Approximately 535 hectares of ash woodlands have been identified for removal so far. Eradication is also being carried out under Departmental supervision at the non-forest locations (i.e. roadsides, horticultural nurseries, garden centres, AEOS/REPS farms and private gardens).
A support scheme has been introduced for forest owners who have been instructed to remove ash trees from forests planted under the forestry grant schemes. The Reconstitution (Chalara Ash Dieback) Scheme is providing funding to forest owners towards the cost of removing and destroying infected or potentially infected trees and replanting affected sites with alternative tree species.
I am conscious that ash dieback disease could potentially have serious long term effects for the hurley making industry if the disease becomes established in Ireland. For this reason, in order to try and minimise the risk of the disease becoming established, last November I introduced legislation restricting the importation of ash plants and ash wood. This has, in some cases, resulted in ash wood supply arrangements being changed to meet the new requirements but we understand that it has not had a significant impact on the current supply of ash to the hurley making industry. In anticipation of any supply issues, Coillte brought forward the sale of some 40,000 hurley planks and are working with sources in the UK to import additional supplies.
Part of our long term strategy is to breed ash trees for resistance to the disease and my Department is involved in research efforts with our colleagues in the UK to test Irish material planted in several areas in the south east of England in heavily Chalara invested sites. I understand that there are some positive signs around Europe of ash trees showing resistance to the disease.
I would like to re-emphasise that my Department is currently eradicating this disease wherever it is found. Department officials with their Teagasc counterparts recently carried out a series of 22 meetings around the country to raise awareness of the disease and what to watch out for in order that as many people as possible are on the lookout for the disease and will report anything suspicious. My officials are working very closely with our colleagues in Northern Ireland and I am glad to report that to date there is no confirmation of the disease spreading to the wider environment here or in Northern Ireland.