The fight for the future of ash on the MOD Training Estate required strategic thinking and military precision.

AFTER discovering the first large-scale infection of ash dieback on the Ministry of Defence (MOD) Training Estate in 2016, Landmarc Support Services has worked with the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) to implement a rigorous programme to help combat the disease that has been dominating Europe’s woodland.

Ash dieback is a fungal pathogen that, once established, is almost impossible to keep from spreading and has no known cure. The disease was first identified in the UK back in 2012 after sweeping across Europe for several years.

Young trees infected by the disease succumb within a couple of years, but older specimens tend to deteriorate for longer periods of time, becoming brittle, unstable and prone to collapse.

After finding the first significant infection on the Defence Training Estate in the South East of England, subsequent survey work led to the identification of infected trees in many more of the woodlands across the UK estate, in various degrees of severity.

Forestry Journal: Between 1,800 and 2,000 trees were felled during the project.Between 1,800 and 2,000 trees were felled during the project.


Over two thirds of the 240,000 hectares of land owned by the MOD are for the primary purpose of military training, but are also well used by the general public, farming and hobbyist tenants, who are likely to come across infected trees along public rights of way and on roadsides, where ash is common in hedgerows, posing a significant health and safety risk.

As the DIO’s industry partner for managing the UK Defence Training Estate, Landmarc knew that fast action was required. In 2018, an early warning was raised to enable Landmarc and the DIO to work together to develop a solution, and it was soon established that a wide-scale tree-felling programme would help protect the health and safety of users of the training estate, as well as the future of the ash tree species across the UK.

A collaborative ash dieback strategy was developed to include a seven-point risk management process, which was implemented across the whole of the estate. The process involved identifying the location of all ash trees, mapping them onto the Landmarc Geographical Information System (GIS) and identifying locations that are the highest risk to people and property to prioritise actions appropriately. Approximately 140,000 trees have been affected by the disease, with Salisbury Plain Training Area in Wiltshire one of the worst affected areas, followed by training areas in Kent and Wales. However, this figure is likely to be much higher when felling is completed.

Forestry Journal: The project was an excellent showcase for the Sennebogen 718E material handler.The project was an excellent showcase for the Sennebogen 718E material handler.


On Salisbury Plain, diseased trees have successfully been removed from a number of training woodlands, but the most complex was a roadside project along the A345, which started in November. The A345 is a busy, major route which crosses the plain from north to south. Within its hedgerows, many infected mature ash were present, which were also exhibiting secondary root infections, so a double hazard issue for the foresters and the public. This posed many challenges due to the location and local infrastructure, not least because of the power lines that threaded through the tree line.

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Due to the risk involved in felling delicate and mature trees, coupled with the additional risk of power lines, specialist machinery and methodologies from contractors KWR were used to ensure the safety of on-site workers, as well as the preservation of surrounding trees and infrastructure.

With much of Salisbury Plain open for public access, effective site management was vital to ensure the safety of both on-site workers and the general public. Landmarc and the DIO therefore worked closely with the local council, the Highways Agency, local communities and energy companies to deliver this complex operation and ensure road closures and power shutdowns caused minimal disruption.

Felling in winter is a complex task due to waterlogged ground conditions and brittle and rotten wood within the tree crown, but it was critical that this stage of the project was completed in plenty of time before spring. Previous felling operations at Cinque Port Training Area in the South East, which is also a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), allowed the teams to learn invaluable lessons about the importance of timing felling works to help minimise soil damage, as well as planning around bird nesting and protected species.

Forestry Journal: 2,000 tonnes of woodchip was collected by AW Jenkinson.2,000 tonnes of woodchip was collected by AW Jenkinson.


The preservation of the defence training estate’s ash trees and genetic diversity, as well as managing the health and safety risks from dead and dying trees, remains at the heart of the ash dieback strategy. Ecological surveys were undertaken during the planning stages of the project, with the aim of ensuring the presence of ash in the long term and minimising the impact on associated species and wider biodiversity. To this end, ash has been targeted for retention where it does not pose a direct risk to users of the woodlands.

Maintaining a wide variety of landscapes and terrains is not only essential for the preservation of UK woodland, but also for effective military training. The purpose of the Defence Training Estate is to ensure the armed forces have a quality training experience that resembles as many real-life worldwide environments as possible, placing huge impact on where each species can thrive.

Forestry Journal: Mature trees were left standing where possible.Mature trees were left standing where possible.


So far, around 80,000 infected trees have been felled on Salisbury Plain, including 20 miles of roadside hedgerows, and the planning of the area’s replanting process has begun. The regeneration stage of this project is clearly of prime importance and Landmarc and the DIO have held extensive discussions with the Forestry Commission and Natural England about the restoration of felled areas, which is reflected in the approved felling licences for the operations.

Within the woodland compartments, space has been left for the natural regeneration of tree seed already in the soil and this will be enhanced with the planting of native broadleaf species. A small proportion of felled timber has also been left on site to provide deadwood habitats to help maintain the current ground flora as much as possible.

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Collaboratively, Landmarc’s forestry and arboriculture manager Judith Peachey, and DIO forester Richard Hartley, will take into consideration which species will be planted to provide a resilient and future-proofed woodland when faced with climate change, extreme weather conditions and any future diseases.

Furthermore, as military training is a top priority for the two organisations, plans must include a variety of terrain, from open canopies to thick, dense woodland, so the estate continues to provide an environment that enables our armed forces to achieve their training objectives.

Forestry Journal: Only a handful of trees, up on steep banks, had to be felled by hand.Only a handful of trees, up on steep banks, had to be felled by hand.


As a government department, the MOD does not qualify for Forestry Commission grants, and so the UK-wide project has to continue to be sustainable and self-funding. Timber from the felling is being sold standing and going to the most appropriate market, which includes logs for structural and furniture use, and a wood-fuelled biomass plant. This will be processed as renewable energy from either the branch wood and understorey (timber chipped within the woodland and taken away to the plant), or round wood (timber chipped at the plant). Selling the timber supports the UK timber processing sector and helps to fund the operation, easing the burden on MOD budgets. Much of this money is used for reinstating the site, rebuilding tracks, erecting deer fences and restocking the woodland.

Forestry Journal: Around half of the road areas were covered with BT phone lines, which complicated the job further.Around half of the road areas were covered with BT phone lines, which complicated the job further.


Understanding the importance of the general public’s cooperation, Landmarc, the DIO and local authoritative bodies proactively engage with communities in each location where felling work will have an impact. Prior to work starting on Salisbury Plain, Landmarc and the DIO worked with the Forestry Commission to hold a joint stakeholder meeting for farming and sporting tenants and local parish councils, as well as writing to local households and providing updates on This opened up an educational conversation about ash dieback and the planned programme of works, allowing local stakeholders the opportunity to understand more about the issue and ask questions, which was very well received.

The ash dieback disease itself – and the actions undertaken to fight it – have served as a valuable lesson as to how we must go about securing the future of our woodlands. Landmarc rural specialists work with regulatory bodies, such as the Forestry Commission, on how to deal with the disease in other areas of the UK, with the future aim of moving away from single-species woodland, to diversify landscapes, and to enhance biodiversity of all kinds. Future works are continually being evaluated, looking at the latest scientific information about how ash dieback and associated diseases are developing and infecting the tree population. Where possible, trees are retained to see what resilience and resistance they are developing, which will inform species choice for future woodland planting works.

The value of working collaboratively cannot be underestimated on this project. Foresters and rural teams across both Landmarc and the DIO have worked very hard to minimise any disruption and reinstate access to the woodlands for all of the defence training estate’s stakeholders in the quickest time possible.

Forestry Journal: The 13 m reach of the Sennebogen ensured trees could be felled from the tarmac.The 13 m reach of the Sennebogen ensured trees could be felled from the tarmac.

As the contractor responsible for felling ash along the Salisbury Plain roadsides, KWR had quite A task on its hands. Here, contracts manager Alec Pearson details the team’s approach:

The contract comprised 8.5 miles of road along the A345 in Salisbury at the military training area, with a similar length along the associated back roads. All in all, going up and down both sides, we had close to 40 miles of road to cover. The brief was to clear all ash trees within a four-metre distance of the road, then take away any wind-exposed trees and leave the area nice and safe.

We were asked to look at it around 18 months ago. 12 contractors were invited to tender and we put in the successful bid for the works. From there, the planning started. It required a lot of work, going back and forth between the MOD, Landmarc, the local parishes, SSE, BT Open Reach, Wiltshire County Council and other stakeholders. It was a very complex project in relation to the amount of people who had a say. Working through all that, we put together a plan which was changed fairly regularly till we got to a point where everybody agreed.

We finally got our start date of the beginning of November. I’d worked out that it would take us around 60 working days. It had been estimated that we would have to remove 850 trees, but as we got underway that figure turned into nearly 2,000. The problem was, because it was such a busy road, it couldn’t be surveyed and quantified down to every last tree. I knew, through experience, there would be more than the 850 trees, but I didn’t have an exact number to work to.

Each day from 8.30am to 5pm the road was closed. We went in with our Sennebogen 718 E to selectively dismantle the trees, which were typically chipped on site with our Greentec self-contained bin chipper and, from there, carted to a central compound, where it was all collected by AW Jenkinson.

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It was a very, very smooth project, which wasn’t surprising, but at the same time you expect a project of that size to throw a few curveballs at you. But every issue we encountered had been planned for. I think I had eight contingency plans for every single scenario – plans on top of plans to ensure smooth running. Once the road closed, the clock was ticking. We had to work within that window and within the power-line shutdowns.

There were 17 individual road closures over the period and five power-line shutdowns across the project. We probably had 50 per cent of the road areas covered with BT phone lines, ranging from single strand right up to highly engineered fibre optic cables. That complicated things, as we had to dismantle trees among the power lines for some distances at a time. Thankfully, we didn’t break a single cable.

Forestry Journal:  KWR has engineered a clamshell bucket for the Sennebogen, so it can load lorries with woodchip and brash, removing the need to bring in an extra machine for the task. KWR has engineered a clamshell bucket for the Sennebogen, so it can load lorries with woodchip and brash, removing the need to bring in an extra machine for the task.

The project was a great showcase for the Sennebogen. You couldn’t have picked a better machine for the job. Some of the areas were steep banks, and we were taking 20–30 metres either side of the road off, covering 250 metres a day. We didn’t have to go off-road at all. We managed to do absolutely everything from the tarmac, which meant there was no damage caused to road verges, drains, fences or hedges – all down to the capability of the Sennebogen. It took down 99.8 per cent of the trees, with just a few having to be hand-felled on high banks. That allowed us to do the job in 45 days, coming in well under the 60 days we’d originally planned for. That pleased the council, the MOD and everybody else that was involved in the project.

All in all, we ended up taking around 2,000 tonnes of log and biomass-grade chip off the job.

After finishing on the road at 5 pm, we would have up to 10 lorries waiting in the compound, ready for us to load up when we got back. A full-on working day was 7 am to 8 pm, but that was how we managed to complete the job in good time and offer excellent service to our customers.

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