Mobile app helps save ash trees

Swathes of woodland is at risk of culling due to an infectious disease sweeping the country, but a new smartphone app aims to limit the damage

Members of the public are being called on to use a new smartphone app to help prevent the spread of ash tree dieback disease, which threatens to wipe out up to 80 million trees across the UK.

The disease, Chalara fraxinea, first spotted in the UK in February 2012, has been officially identified in 200 sites around the country. Ash imports to the UK have been suspended and more than 100,000 trees have been destroyed in an attempt to prevent the disease from spreading.

However, the AshTag app, developed by the University of East Anglia, may help to contain the issue and save swathes of woodland.

The app allows users to upload photos and report possible sightings of the disease to a team of plant pathologists. They then pass the information to the Forestry Commission who will scientifically verify the possible cases with a site visit.

Diseased trees may display symptoms that include wilting and a black-brown discolouration of the leaves. But as it’s now winter, the AshTag team suggests people concentrate on looking for lesions or cankers in the bark instead. The app provides comprehensive information and guidance on what to look for.

The app also uses geo-tagging software to give the precise location of infected trees in order to assist plant pathologists, as well as provide an up-to-date map of the disease situation across the country.

The app has been downloaded by 10,000 people, 500 of which have already uploaded photos for the AshTag team to examine. People without a smartphone can also help by uploading digital photos and locations to the AshTag website.

Toby Hammond, from the University of East Anglia, said: “We hope that thousands of people, from school groups and nature lovers to dog walkers and farmers, will use the app.”

The app has been praised by organisations such as the National Farmers Union and the Forestry Commission, which says that the reports provided by AshTag are proving to be “extremely useful”.