Tuesday, 25 June 2013

First visit to Wakehurst

Today, accompanied by Mark Ballard and Dan Crowley, I visited Wakehurst Place to meet with some of the other members of the seed collecting team. 

We met in the Millennium Seed Bank to discuss where the project was and how the initial planning phases where coming together. 

We briefly touched on the list of trees that we are hoping to find whilst in Korea. One particular line of enquiry that caught my attention was the prospect of bringing back some seed from native Asian ash species.
Millennium Seed Bank at Wakehurst Place 
As almost everyone is probably aware due to its high media coverage, the British landscape is currently under a threat from Chalara fraxinea, or, as it is more commonly known, ash dieback disease. C. fraxinea causes ash trees to lose their leaves, experience crown dieback and will usually result in the tree dying.

Scientists are currently researching within native species of ash to find resistant trees that may possess genes that are able to withstand the attacking fungus.

However, searching for resistant trees within non-native species is much more of a challenge, as most non-native ash trees within the UK grow as specimen trees in arboretums such as Westonbirt, or in people’s gardens and private collections.

This lack of population (specimen trees commonly grow on their own) also means that there is a lack of potential genetic variation to find resistant trees amongst.

By taking a population sample from non-native species in their natural environment – as we plan to do in South Korea – the search for resistant trees can be carried out with a larger and genetically more varied sample of non-natives.

If genes resistant to C. fraxinea are found amongst the seeds we collect, there may in the future be the opportunity to hybridise and produce a new and resistant species of ash.

Although this may not be a very fast solution to the problem and will not prevent the threat that knocks on our countryside’s door, I am still very excited to be part of the process.

If you are concerned about ash dieback disease and would like to learn more,
please take the time to read this.

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