Northern Ireland

Ash dieback: Scientists identify tree showing disease tolerance

Ash trees, such as this one overhanging the River Lagan in Belfast, are common in Northern Ireland
Image caption Ash trees, such as this one at the River Lagan in Belfast, are common in Northern Ireland

Scientists have made a breakthrough in the battle against a devastating tree disease that has forced officials to destroy almost 100,000 young trees in Northern Ireland.

Ash dieback was first discovered in Northern Ireland in 2012.

It is believed to have entered the region in a shipment of infected saplings.

It has been found at 94 locations in Northern Ireland, mostly in areas planted within the past seven years.

As a result, 95,000 young trees have been destroyed in an attempt to contain it.

Scientists in England have now identified an ash tree that shows tolerance to the disease.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The disease has devastated ash trees across Europe

Nicknamed Betty, it raises the possibility of selective breeding to develop trees that are resistant.

Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Michelle O'Neill said that as well as being found in plantations, the disease had also been discovered in hedgerow ash in three locations close to infected sites.

A survey is to be carried out later this year to establish the extent of the spread in Northern Ireland.

Ash is one of the most common trees in the region's landscape.

The disease leads to leaf loss and lesions on the bark, and usually proves fatal.

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