Ash tree disaster: why politicians must see the wood for the trees

Oliver Hayes

15 November 2012

What do ash trees, badgers, buzzards, public forests and bees have in common?

Trouble, that’s what.

On my "in trouble" scale 1 = caught smoking by your mum, and 10 = Lance Armstrong. And on the green equivalent of this scale badgers, buzzards, public forests and bees have hovered around 9 of late.

There’s a common thread to their strife: the Government and its disregard for the natural environment. More detail below.

But there’s also a common thread to the solutions they’re crying out for: Friends of the Earth campaigns standing up for our environment and the people who rely on it. We’re doing it with more urgency than ever – read on to see how you can join the campaign to save our bees.

Ash trees

Let’s start with ash trees. I had to go over the numbers several times before they really sank in: almost 80 million trees are threatened. Ash is the third most common tree in the UK – we’re talking about the potential transformation of our countryside.

It’s a nightmare for the species that rely on ash - and for all of us who love these beautiful trees.

So how has this happened, and what can we do about it?

Government acted far too slowly. As a Friends of the Earth investigation revealed, officials have known about so-called Ash dieback since 2009 - some suggest even earlier. But because they dithered – if you can call three years’ delay a "dither" – the disease is now in wild trees throughout the UK and is predicted to spread uncontrollably over the next decade.

And our investigation showed a fear of upsetting trade deals was at the heart of government inaction. The risk to big money contracts was seen as more important than the risk to our woodland.

But there's something we can all do - right now. A group of experts has developed ashtag – a quick and easy way for people to spot and photograph diseased trees, then send them to the body responsible for our trees and woodland. This simple act will help officials quickly build up a picture of where the disease has reached, and help combat its spread.

Last weekend in the countryside where I grew up I couldn’t believe the beauty of the autumn colours. I now live in South London, where the colours range mostly from tarmac black to concrete grey – but kaleidoscope trees light up our cities and parks.

So if you’re making the most of the sunny autumn weather, please download the app and help do your bit.

Government wanting

Friends of the Earth will not be letting our Government off the hook. It’s up to them to ensure our environment has the protection that it and we need. They’ve been found hopelessly wanting of late: Ministers tried to sell off of our forests; drew up plans to allow gamekeepers to destroy buzzard nests in the name of pheasant shoots; and most recently proposed a badger cull to tackle TB in cattle, flying in the face of scientific advice.

Add to this an Environment Secretary who reportedly doesn’t believe in climate change and we’re faced with a deeply destructive administration, far from its stated ambition of being the "greenest government ever".

So what next?


This year Friends of the Earth has been campaigning hard to raise awareness of the next potential nature collapse – bee decline.

Bee numbers in Britain have fallen dramatically in recent years. Two bumblebee species are already extinct in Britain. The Bee Cause campaign has all the info on what’s causing the decline, why bees are so crucial to our everyday lives – and the economy – and what will help bees thrive.

The Government responded too slowly to the science on ash trees. We can't let them do the same with bees.

So, if you haven’t already, please take a moment to ask our Government to save the bee – and not to let our furry friends be the next nature cock-up.

Please sign The Bee Cause petition, and be part of an organisation championing a thriving environment and a good life for all of us.

Thank you.

Oliver Hayes, Campaigner

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