Caption: Jamie notes the mature ash (on field boundary) has been frosted (no leaves).
Caption: Valley bottom trees are not in leaf (birch being the exception) with the ash and oak remaining brown.

With ash dieback well established in Cumbria, Cumbria Woodlands’ team noticed that this has been a difficult season for our native tree, even without ash dieback.

Our project officer, Jamie Chaplin-Brice, noted ash trees in St John’s in the Vale looking sub-par and has interpreted this as being partly a result of late frost, plus a dry spring. We’ve included his photos to accompany our thoughts, and invite you to share your own observations.

Jamie notes the mature ash (on field boundary) has been frosted (no leaves) as has the oak behind (brown leaves). There may be enough buds remaining on the ash for it to come into leaf. But there may be a few bare or brown trees which might mistakenly identify them as dead/severely diseased. Some rain will help, but they may look a bit sad all year!

Valley bottom trees are not in leaf (birch being the exception) with the ash and oak remaining brown. The trees up slope (towards Blencathra) are all in green leaf. The foreground ash have experienced a knock back because they are in a frost pocket. The ash trees up the hill have come into leaf as they have not been affected by frost. Jamie adds that it’s possible the frosted/late leafing trees may be more susceptible to ash dieback as a result. Time will tell.

Barnaby Wylder, Forestry Commission’s Tree Health Officer also noticed that the ash in Grizedale is late in emerging (or yet to emerge) and observed some short pollards with frosted leaves still attached. Our former director and regional forestry consultant, Edward Mills, has also witnessed the black crispy frost-damaged leaves and states that it’s mostly too early for the ash leaves to be wilting from dieback. He recorded the latest and most severe frost in Witherslack for 25+ years. This has resulted in some severely damaged oak, beech and others, including yew, and this, he adds, has been compounded by an astonishingly dry spell. The consistently cold nights have caused the ash to flush late, even as they flush the second time after frost damage.

However, Edward, Barnaby and Jamie would lie to encourage you all, “not to panic fell” thinking the ash are dead – please be patient! Also consider that dead wood is a rare and crucial habitat (2,000+ UK deadwood invertebrate species, supporting birds, mammals, plants, fungi and mosses – even fish that rely on deadwood habitat in streams!).

In addition, Barnaby has hinted that it might be a busy year for Phytophthora. Although Edward adds that larch exhibiting browning of new foliage might have experienced drought… possibly a tricky distinction for Barnaby and his Plant Health Forestry team!


  • Craig Nutter

    25 June 2020, 6.11pm

    I have a weekend place at meathop Grange Grange over sands. We have been told that we should fell all our Ash Trees. About 50 I am against this but they are in panic mode. Is there a way to get a proper servey done. To try and save them.

  • ian barrie

    25 June 2020, 6.56pm

    "die back", or the welsh disease as some locals describe it is very common in my small 21 acre woodland.Also parcels of oak are struggling with the browning of the leaves which I thought was chronic oak disease and am now relieved to know was most likely frost after reading your article. Cumbria Woodland was responsible for the idea of planting in 2012 (6200 broadleaf) and I would love a visit from any of your team to give advice or opinion on progress and what I should maybe plant for the future.

  • Giles Thornley

    25 June 2020, 9.14pm

    Here near Tebay we had a great start to the season with buds appearing early, the Apple, Plum and Damson trees all had lots of blossom, the ash and oak had just started to come into leaf and then we were hit with a huge drop in temperature (-5C) over night followed by a few days of very high winds and all blossom was lost, the newly budding Ash and Oak were completely browned, a Tulip Tree we planted in November 2018 was completely devastated, there are, just this week a few buds forming on it, maybe it will survive! The Ash and Oak are now coming into leaf, the Oak better than the Ash. I think it will be a case of just surviving this year. Even some of the sycamore are not showing the best of health. 2020 what a year so far!

  • Nicholas Lowther

    26 June 2020, 5.24pm

    Hi. I have a small orchard in Arnside mainly damsons and apples. But I have two very large and stately ash trees on the boundaries, one of which has bare twigs around outside edge of the tree., where leaves have failed to appear. There is no crown dieback and generally it looks in reasonable health and is full of life. I was interested to read about possible combination of late frost / dry spring as a possible reason for "dieback". I shall keep a close eye out as two large branches overhand a classified road and I don't carry public liability insurance. How long should one wait ? I dont want to find tree has become too brittle to take weight of man plus harness and chainsaw. It would be helpful if there was a definitive test so I knew one way or the other.. But life is rarely that simple ! .

  • Roger Cartwright

    28 June 2020, 12.39pm

    I have had a very similar experience to the above by Giles and Ian. After the succession of increasingly wet years up until 2019, both ash and alder were dieing back in my wet woodland on mossland. Earlier this year the young oak were also affected by browning of the new growth. I wasn't sure what had caused this but it also seemed to be consolidated by the hot spell that became a drought. My theory is that the trees had adjusted to the permanently higher water table of the last few years and then had to deal with a sudden lowering of this during the drought.

    The trees that were worst affected were young ash and oak planted since 1993 - the trees and in fact all the vegetation in the more stable old growth, in the small area of 'ancient woodland' appeared to be less affected by this unpredictable weather! I will put some photos illustrating some of this on my Hale Moss Facebook page.

  • John Bragg

    29 June 2020, 2.22pm

    Your comments on ash dieback seem to be linked to the late leafing of most ash. Here in the Durham Dales we have had ash dieback for many years in the younger ash, but this year it seems to be the mature in-field ash most affected. Many by a third of their crown. You can only hope that it stops there, but there will be some falling branches this year.

  • David Hetherington

    29 June 2020, 4.27pm

    I'm on the southern edge of Carlisle & have 2 small woods, most most trees planted around 30 years ago including 8 - 9 Ash which have doubled in size in the 10 years we've been here. I've also planted more trees & Ash are self seeding.

    My Ash including one in a hedge that was dressed every year until we came here are all in excellent heart. I've 27 species of trees & shrubs all of which are native bar 15 European Larch. Our hedges have Oak that are well over 100 yrs old & Beech that were trimmed to 1.5m till we came here & are now over 6m high.

    The only trees to suffer this year are some of the Beech in the hedges these have browning leaves many of which are dying. I've been informed that it's due to the late frost, when the leaves were tender.

    I can remember on the farm I was brought up on one year when there was a very late severe frost & all the Ash trees lost their leaves, they eventually put out new leaves & were back to normal the following year, so I would urge people not to panic with dead leaves on Ash & to take advice from very knowledgeable sources before considering felling.

  • Mark Aplin

    03 July 2020, 10.20am

    It would great if you could update your comment piece. Early July now and the Oaks and others recovered well from frosting. But ash everywhere looking in a bad state - eg all along the A66.

    We have a small mixed wood, many young an old ash looking poorly, some not so bad.



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