ASH dieback is a distructive disease killing our beloved ash trees - but a Devon business believes it has come up with a plan to help. 

Earthly Biochar, a research-led organisation that conducts commercial trials of biochar in the UK, has discovered that biochar can help to save the UK's ash trees.

Biochar is a sustainable form of horticultural charcoal. In the process of creating biochar, carbon, which otherwise would have been released into the atmosphere as CO2, is captured and stored instead. 

Earthly’s Founder, Lottie Hawkins, said: "In summer last year, we visited a farm in Wales that had two woodlands, both with ash trees, and both suffering from ash dieback.  

"This farmer makes his own biochar to EU regulatory standards, and in an attempt to save his ash trees, he top-dressed biochar around the base of the trunks. He did this on half the trees with ash dieback and left the other half alone.

"One year went by, and the untreated ash trees had little new growth and looked withered; they looked like they were dying. In contrast, the biochar-treated ash trees have bushy, deep green new growth and look far healthier than their counterparts. This was ground-breaking information, and we decided to take the private research forwards, and apply for government funding to create a citizen science project that can test biochar treatment on a much larger scale across the UK."

The organisation is now responsible for conducting the largest commercial trials of biochar in the UK - and Lottie is asking for help to save our ash trees. 

To find out more about the project, click here. 

"We’re asking members of the public to come forward, become citizen scientists, and help us help the ash trees," the 28-year-old said.

"Similar to the Big Garden Birdwatch from the RSPB, we’re hoping people will get involved, document their natural surroundings, and help our natural environment.  

"We’re asking people to go out and find an ash tree, whether it’s on their land, a nearby park, or a forest, and tell us about it using our new ash dieback website. We can then send biochar out for people to apply directly to the tree, or we can send it to the landowner, council, or forestry commission for them to apply.  

"Our mission is to help save the ash trees, not just through the application of biochar but also by reducing the need for mass felling. We know from French research that 20% of ash trees have a genetic advantage allowing them to live successfully with ash dieback.

"If we can use biochar to improve the health of the other 80%, then we could move towards only felling single trees if they’re a health and safety hazard. With mass felling, the healthy ash trees that have this genetic advantage will also be felled. We need these 20% to repopulate and pass on their genetic advantages, therefore protecting more of our future ash trees. 

"It’s not just the ash trees we’re trying to save; it’s also the species that rely on the ash, which often get forgotten about when we discuss losing these trees. There are 115 Ash-related species made up of insects, microbes, plants, and birds that would risk falling into decline when the ash trees have gone. This extinction cascade would be devastating to our UK woodlands."