UEA Ash tagging project to unlock secret of disease resistant trees

20th Aug 2013

A new project to help scientists identify species of ash tree that are resistant to Chalara fraxinea or 'dieback' will be launched by the University of East Anglia today.

Members of the public are being called on to monitor the long-term health of ash trees around the UK in what researchers hope will become one of the country’s biggest citizen science projects.

The new initiative comes from the team that launched Ashtag last year – a mobile phone app that allowed people to report sightings of the disease as it swept across the country.

The new project will allow members of the public to physically tag both diseased and healthy trees with a unique ID number and monitor their long-term progress using an updated AshTag app.

Users are encouraged to submit photos of their tagged trees over a period of years, building up a clearer picture of how ash dieback affects long-term tree health. The app will also be used to track down dieback-resistant trees and results will be fed back to scientists, including those at the John Innes Centre in Norwich working on the Nornex project - a network of research groups which aims to provide tools that can help understand, and ultimately limit the impact of ash dieback.

Chris Blincoe of the Adapt Group at UEA, said: “By calling on the huge number of people who are concerned about the future of the UK’s ash trees, we can begin to understand how the disease progresses through trees at different stages of maturity, and importantly investigate why some trees remain uninfected for no clear reason.

“We had a huge positive response to the AshTag app. It was downloaded by around 12,000 people and more than 1,000 suspected dieback sightings were reported, enabling the spread of the disease to be clearly documented. With this new phase of AshTag, people can play a more active part in helping to fight back against ash dieback.

“We hope that thousands of people, from school groups and nature lovers to dog walkers and farmers will use the app to monitor the health of their local trees and become stewards for the nation’s ash population.”

As well as camera integration, uploading and geo-tagging technology, the app also comes with identification guides to help users know what they are looking for. The fully recyclable AshTag packs include five ID tags, enabling individual ‘AshTaggers’ to monitor the health of multiple trees.

The project has been made possible with funding from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation.

To find out more about how to get an Ash Tagging pack and start monitoring the progress of the UK’s ash population, visit www.ashtag.org or download the new AshTag smartphone app for iPhone and Android.

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