Oxford University

Sylva Foundation funds critical ash dieback research

Ensuring forests are resilient is a key part of the mission of the Sylva Foundation, which is why it invests in promoting and conducting research on sustainable forest management.

For the fourth academic year in a row, the foundation is generously supporting a DPhil student in the Department of Plant Sciences with the Oxford–Sylva Foundation Graduate Scholarship. We spoke to Louise Hill, now in the second year of her DPhil supported by the foundation, about her research and what it meant to receive this support.

QWhat is your research about?

AI’m looking at the ecological consequences of ash dieback in the UK. There’s a huge number of ash trees in the UK and it’s possible that 90% or more of those trees are going be affected by ash dieback. I want to find out what’s going to happen to ecosystems and to all the organisms that rely on ash, especially the 44 species, insects and fungi mostly, that rely completely on this tree.

I think there is an intrinsic value in forests. As custodians of that, we shouldn’t be taking it for granted.

QWhy is it important to study ash dieback?

AForests provide a lot of services to people, things such as flood protection and carbon capture, so they are pretty critical to how we function in society. As tree diseases and pests are increasing enormously, looking at the effects on ecosystems of losing an enormous proportion of one of our most common trees is a really useful case study.

I think there is also an intrinsic value in forests and in the biodiversity they hold. As custodians of that, we shouldn’t be taking it for granted and just ignoring it.

QWhat will be the practical impact of your research?

AThere are two aspects to it. With my experiment, I can directly investigate some of the possible impacts of ash trees dying. Once we know what these are, it will be easier to find ways of mitigating the damage. For example, if I find that regeneration of other trees is reduced, we might look at other ways we can support regeneration of tree seedlings in forests.

With the computer modelling I’m doing on a UK level I will identify which areas of the UK are most vulnerable to ash dieback, which will be useful from a national policy perspective.

QHow did you feel when you got the scholarship?

AI was in Borneo with very patchy internet when I received an email informing me that I had won the scholarship to do my DPhil, and it was brilliant. All my hopes were resting on it, my plans for the future.

The Sylva Foundation is very supportive and has a lot of networks with forest and woodland owners, so that was useful when I was setting the experiments up. I am also really keen to get practical recommendations out of my research, and with the Sylva Foundation’s great networks I will be able to spread best practice.

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