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Kent Downs Ash Project celebrates the ash tree as it faces the deadly threat from ash dieback disease

By Angela Cole

A project aimed at highlighting the projected loss of thousands of ash trees across the Kent Downs is to hold its first exhibition.

It is estimated that some 150million ash trees across England, Scotland and Wales will be lost to ash dieback in the next 10 years and as the species is the most common across the Kent Downs, the effects are already being felt.

The Kent Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty has commissioned the Ash Project to mark and celebrate ash trees before it is too late.

Affected ash trees on the Kent Downs
Affected ash trees on the Kent Downs

Backed by 20 environmental partners including the National Trust, Kent Wildlife Trust, the RSPB and the Tree Council, it aims to create a lasting legacy for a species that faces devastating losses and is starting with the Ash Archive in Canterbury.

The Ash Archive, which will be in the Jarman Building at the University of Kent until Saturday, April 14, will be a collaboration between the University of Kent and The Ash Project to create a growing collection of objects, artworks, poems and drawings that record the beauty of ash in the landscape.

People are invited to contribute objects made of ash to help build the archive, alongside commissions and existing works by artists and designers celebrating the tree.

Nick Johannsen, director of the Kent Downs AONB unit, said: "Ash trees are a vital part of our landscape.

The Ash Archive includes though-provoking images of the ash tree
The Ash Archive includes though-provoking images of the ash tree

"We are already seeing drastic and tragic changes to the Kent Downs and we know that this impact is due to widen across the country. Ash is host to nearly 1000 other species - the loss of ash is the loss of a whole ecology.

"It is highly unlikely that there will be a cure or that we will prevent the spread of Ash dieback - therefore we are passionate about the need to record and celebrate the ash and ash landscapes before they are lost."

The project has asked internationally recognised artists Ackroyd & Harvey to create a major new artwork made of an ash tree and more than 10,000 ash arrows, which is due to be unveiled in April and will go on display on the Downs.

There will also be a two-year programme of public engagement including artists’ walks through ash landscapes curated by the Whitstable Biennale, public programmes at University of Kent, Turner Contemporary and Folkestone's Creative Foundation and a Kent-wide schools programme.

The Ash Archive features the ash tree in a range of ways
The Ash Archive features the ash tree in a range of ways

Beccy Speight, CEO of the Woodland Trust said: "The Ash Project shares our belief that arts and culture provide an essential link between people and the landscapes and woodlands in which we live. By mapping the cultural and social history that we share with the now endangered ash tree, this project encourages us to think more widely about the role that trees play in our lives, providing not only crucial habitats for wildlife, but the oxygen that we need to breathe and so many other essentials for life."

The exhibition is at Studio 3 Gallery, Jarman Building, University of Kent. It is open between 11am and 5pm Monday to Friday and is free to enter, with no booking required. It will tour galleries around the county this year. For details visit theashproject.org.uk

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