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Save the ash tree? Half of us can’t even recognise an oak

An appeal for the public to report tree disease has merely revealed our arboreal ignorance

More than four-fifths of people cannot identify an ash tree from its leaves and almost half cannot recognise an oak, a survey has revealed.

Members of the public are being encouraged to report signs of diseases such as ash dieback which are threatening British trees, as part of efforts to tackle infections which could wipe out millions of the nation’s trees.

But many people cannot even identify some of the UK’s most common trees at risk, a YouGov poll conducted for the Woodland Trust suggests.

Only 17 per cent recognised an ash leaf, despite the high profile of Chalara ash dieback, which experts have warned could be as devastating as Dutch elm disease.

And 57 per cent could not identify an oak, one of the country’s most common and recognisable trees. Oaks are at risk from disease such as acute oak decline, which causes bleeding and lesions on stems and tree death.

Fewer than two-fifths (39 per cent) of young people could identify an oak and only one in 10 identified an ash. Older people did better: more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of over-55s identified an oak and almost a quarter (23 per cent) recognised an ash.

Those in north-east England and Northern Ireland struggled most to identify oak leaves, with just 40 per cent getting it right, while fewer than one in 10 (9 per cent) people in the North-east could identify an ash.

The Woodland Trust warns that a ignorance of trees among members of the public could hamper efforts to stop the spread of tree pests and diseases; the UK is plagued by 15 such diseases and five more could be on their way.

Austin Brady, head of conservation at the trust, said: “We are relying on people to report the signs of disease and pests in their local woods, so if more people were able to identify common trees like ash and oak, it would make tracking the spread easier.

“We are calling for increased education on native trees and disease identification before it’s too late. We need to learn about and love trees and woods or we risk losing them.”

* Leaf test answers to image above: A. Ash; B. Oak; C. Sycamore; D. Birch; E. Beech; F. Hawthorn

* People can test their tree knowledge online and watch a video with the wildlife presenter Simon King on identifying ash and oak trees at the Woodland Trust’s website, www.loveitorloseit.org.uk website