The fungus - Chalara fraxinea, has been discovered in native Ash trees in parts of central and eastern England and also in Glasgow, Scotland.
If the disease spreads more widely it has the potential to devastate the UK’s 80 million-strong Ash population and the wildlife directly dependent on the tree.
More than 30 species of moth are dependent on Ash in some way including two UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) species, one provisional Red Data Book list species and two nationally scarce species.
Some eight species of moth are solely dependent on the tree as a foodplant including the provisional Red Data book listed Pammene suspectana.
The Ash is classed as an important foodplant for a further eight species including the Barred Tooth-striped - a BAP species, the Lilac Beauty, Ash Pug, Brick and Coronet.
A further 19 species rely on the Ash as a minor foodplant, including the Goat Moth – a BAP species, and the nationally scarce micro mothsCaloptilia cuculipennella andOecophora bractella.
The tree is also important for the rare Brown Hairstreak butterfly which often uses Ash as “master trees” around which they to congregate and find mates.
These butterflies also regularly visit Ash to feed on honeydew produced by aphids.
Director of Conservation, Dr Nigel Bourn, said: “Ash dieback poses yet another threat to Britain’s dwindling butterfly and moth populations.
“It could repeat the devastating losses of Elm-feeding species that we saw as a result of Dutch Elm Disease during the 1970s.”
Butterflies have suffered before from the spread of tree diseases. Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s it caused a massive decline in elm feeding species like the White-letter Hairstreak, which declined by over 70% and badly affected rare moths like the White-spotted Pinion. (now a UK BAP Priority species).
Butterfly Conservation is asking for members to be vigilant for the disease and report any suspected cases to the Forestry Commission.
Further information on how to recognize ash die-back and where to send reports is found on their website www.forestry.gov.uk/chalara
ASH IS SOLE FOOD PLANT FOR:
ASH IS IMPORTANT FOODPLANT FOR:
ASH DEPENDENT BUTTERFLIES