THERE is new hope in the fight against ash dieback, according to scientists.

A study published in the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution has identified the genes that give trees resistance to ash dieback, which suggests that trees could now be bred that are unaffected by the disease.

Professor Richard Buggs, from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, told the BBC: “I hope this work will lead to us safeguarding ash populations for future generations.

“We’ve discovered about 3,000 locations in the DNA of these ash trees that are contributing to the resistance. We hope to bring together all of the genetic differences that are contributing to resistance into a single population of ash trees that will have higher resistance than any of the ash trees that we currently have.”

There is more good news for ash trees, with the recent publication of research which found that European ash has moderately good resistance to the emerald ash borer (EAB), a beetle that has severely affected ash species in the USA and some parts of Russia.

Tests on a selection of ash species show that European ash – while not immune to initial attack by the EAB – has the resources to restrict the beetle’s development.

The study finds that the frequency with which larvae of the EAB developed to later stages in European ash was much lower than in the highly susceptible black ash. But European ash had similar resistance to that of Manchurian ash, which coexists with the beetle in East Asia.

Previously, researchers were concerned that if EAB arrived in Britain, any native European ash trees that hadn’t succumbed to ash dieback may be finished off by the beetle.

“In the long term we predict that ash in the UK will gradually evolve greater resistance to ash dieback as a result of natural selection. We expect that healthy trees may suffer some harm from emerald ash borer but not be severely damaged,” explained Professor James Brown of the John Innes Centre, one of the authors of the study.

“If the beetle were to arrive in UK it would encounter an ash population weakened by exposure to ash dieback. The combined effect may prove highly destructive initially to woodland and urban plantings.

“The implication of our study is that the emerald ash borer must be kept out of the UK for as long as possible particularly by restricting imports of ash wood, both timber and firewood, from areas affected by EAB or neighbouring areas.”