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!

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