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Norfolk ash tree could be key to fighting dieback disease

Video report by ITV News Anglia's Malcolm Robertson

Scientists say a tree in Norfolk could hold the key to fighting ash dieback.

The tree named Betty in a wood near Norwich has been identified as having a very high tolerance to the disease.

Chalara ash dieback, which could kill millions of ash trees, was first identified in the UK in 2012 and experts fear it could have the same devastating impact on the country's woodlands and landscape as Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.

But a team of researchers from the UK, Denmark and Norway have identified genetic markers in ash trees which are tolerant to the disease, raising hopes of selective breeding to produce trees which are less susceptible to the ash dieback fungus.

A tree, nicknamed "Betty", in a Norfolk Wildlife Trust woodland near Norwich was predicted by the markers to show a very high tolerance to the disease.

Betty is a mature tree which is currently healthy, despite being next to trees which are infected.

The identification of genetic markers for trees with low susceptibility to ash dieback is a large first step, one of many that will be needed in the fight to help ash trees survive this disease epidemic.

– Professor Allan Downie, Emeritus Fellow at the John Innes Centre
The ash wood near Norwich. Credit: ITV Anglia

This unprecedented work conducted by British scientists has uncovered an exciting development in tree health.

It paves the way for tackling this destructive disease and will help ensure that Britain's stock of ash trees, and its countryside, remains resilient against pests and disease in the future.

– UK Chief Plant Health Officer, Nicola Spence

Researchers think British ash trees may be more resistant than those on the continent.