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Farming talk: Acute Oak Decline, by Charlotte Adkin

Woodlands, particularly ancient broadleaf plantations, are a highly treasured asset of farms and estates from the perspective of aesthetics, recreation and amenity value. However, sadly, they are often undermanaged or overlooked due to the high cost of maintenance and the inevitably long term nature of any economic return (with the exception of shooting estates).


In recent history, the most well publicised threat to our broadleaf woodlands was (and remains) Ash Dieback (Chalara fraxinea now known as Hymenoscyphus fraxineus); which although first spotted in the UK in woods in Buckinghamshire as late as February 2012; soon became a widespread problem, affecting woodlands across the country.


This year, sadly, there appears to be another disease threatening our ancient oak woodlands: Acute Oak Decline (commonly known as AOD). This is particularly pertinent to farmers, land agents and estate owners in the county as it is most prevalent in the Midlands and is visible in our woodlands in Shropshire.


As is common with recently discovered diseases; much remains unknown about AOD; in particular the cause and the way it is spread. However the Forestry Commission, namely Dr Sandra Denman and her team are doing invaluable research on the condition in Shropshire and other parts of the country in order to increase our knowledge. This will consequently guide woodland management and disease prevention for the future.


Suffice it to say, even with the basic knowledge we have at present; it is prudent that those working on or for farms and estates should be able to recognise cases of Acute Oak Decline (AOD) and monitor and record infected trees; particularly roadside trees or trees that, if weakened by AOD, may pose a threat to the public.


Therefore, here is some advice on how one can identify AOD in oaks on farms and estates:


•    Trees aged 50 years + . AOD most commonly affects mature oak trees, fifty years or older; although, recent evidence has shown younger trees displaying symptoms of the disease.
•    Evidence of stem bleeds. Look for vertical weeping fissures that seep black fluid down the trunk.
•    Splits in the bark of the tree: Look for longitudinal splits forming in the cracks between the bark plates of five to 10cm long.
•    Evidence of crown dieback. Thinning of the canopy is apparent as the tree draws near to its death.
•    Evidence of Agrilus Beetle Holes. Approximately one third of AOD cases display ‘D’ shaped exit holes in the trunk created by the Agrilus Beetle. It is not yet known whether the Agrilus beetle plays a part in the spread or severity of the condition.


It is worthy of note that AOD effects trees much more quickly than ‘Chronic Oak Decline’ and that infected oak trees can die as quickly as four years after the onset of the symptoms described above.


For more detailed information visit: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/acuteoakdecline

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