Can European ash survive climate change?
A partnership between two environmental NGO’s Earthwatch and Earth Trust is conducting research with the help of volunteers to discover how ash trees (Fraxinus excelsior L.)are reacting to changing weather conditions, and how this will affect long-term growth and performance.
The research trial at Paradise Wood, part of the Earth Trust Centre based in Little Wittenham, Oxfordshire, is one of five such trials established by Earth Trust and Forest Research (the Research Agency of the Forestry Commission) in 1995, to investigate which provenances of ash are best suited to growing in Britain. It contains trees grown from seed that originated from 15 locations (termed provenances) throughout Europe, spanning much of the natural range of ash.
The deciduous European ash is the UK’s second most widely planted hardwood species after oak, and is economically important for timber. Renowned for toughness and flexibility, ash is frequently used in a range of goods including sports equipment, tool handles and furniture.
Changing climatic conditions are expected to affect tree growth, but exactly how will vary according to species, location and provenance. In this study, scientists expect research results to provide an indication of which ash trees from the varying locations have the best growth rates with a changing climate – key to ensuring sustainable forest management. Earth Trust’s Forestry Research Manager Jo Clark explained “Our research site at Paradise Wood is a unique resource containing many provenance trials of important timber species. The long term nature of such trials provides a ready-made resource to study the effects of climate change on our trees. The trees in our provenance trials are adapted to the conditions from where they originated. Long term research undertaken by the Earth Trust aims to understand how such genetic adaptation influences growth response to climate change.”
Dendrometer bands – which measure small changes in growth - have been attached to trees and measurements will be taken fortnightly throughout the growing season with the help of volunteers. Earthwatch’s Head of Climate Change Research Dr. Dan Bebber stated “By measuring the short-term growth of these European populations and linking this to weather patterns, we can investigate which provenances might be appropriate for planting in the UK in light of our changing climate.”
The dendrometer study compliments Earthwatch’s global forest research programme, set up under the HSBC Climate Partnership, which aims to examine the impact of climate change on the world’s temperate and tropical forests. This research programme is carried out at Wytham Woods, near Oxford and in Regional Climate Centres in Brazil, China, India and the USA.
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