Public can't tell difference between ash and oak, Woodland Trust survey shows
Eight out of ten people (83%) in Britain are unable to identify an ash leaf when shown an image of one, which worsens for 18-24 year olds where it slips to nine out of ten (90%). And only half of adults (57%) in Great Britain can spot one of the nation's most common and iconic trees, the oak.
The You Gov survey commissioned by the Woodland Trust highlights a worrying issue regarding the lack of tree knowledge that could spell disaster for native trees in the UK. British trees are currently facing a tsunami of threats including diseases such as Chalara ash dieback.
The leading woodland conservation charity warns that if UK people aren't educated about basic native tree identification it might be near impossible to tackle the threats faced. This highlights a flaw in the expectation that the public have a big role to play to help tackle tree disease making the challenge of tracking the spread of tree diseases such as Chalara ash dieback even more difficult.
Austin Brady, Head of Conservation at the Woodland Trust commented: "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."
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"We need the public's support to be able to spot cases of disease quickly, but at present the basic knowledge of trees isn't there. There is also a clear trend that younger people are less engaged with nature."
The results show that older people are more likely to have much better knowledge of trees. 23 per cent of those aged 55 and over can recognise an ash leaf compared with 10 per cent of 18-24's, and 68 per cent of 55 and overs can recognise an oak leaf compared to 39 per cent of 18-24's.
For decades we have been talking about a deficit in the amount of time that young people spend outdoors, the results of this survey back up what is expected. British young people spend less time playing in natural places, such as woodlands, countryside and heaths than they did in previous generations. Less than 10% play in such places compared to 40% of adults when they were young, this could be compounded by proposals to cut environmental education.
Mr Brady continued: "It's of massive importance that we give everyone the skills to help tackle tree diseases otherwise our native trees will be under threat. Currently there are 15 tree diseases listed by the Forestry Commission as being present in the country, with another five suggested as not yet present but as having potential to arrive. In order to tackle disease and pests and protect our trees from future threats it's imperative that we increase the nations understanding."
The Trust has created Loveitor Loseit.org.uk to help people learn about tree identification and tree disease. Teaming up with wildlife presenter Simon King, people can take an online test of their knowledge and watch a specially made video with Simon that will help people to tell an ash tree from and oak tree.
The Woodland Trust is working with a number of partners to tackle tree health, including the Forestry Commission, Forest Research and FERA. These collaborations are vital to ensure the long term ambition of building resilient landscapes which are desperately needed to help fight future threats and ensure a future rich in woods and trees for generations to come.