A study was carried out to clarify the role of the fungus Chalara fraxinea in decline of Fraxinus excelsior, which is observed on a large scale in central and northern Europe with high incidence of tree mortality. The aims of this work were: (i) to check for the presence of C. fraxinea in various tissues of declining F. excelsior by agar culture isolations and by direct analysis of plant tissues using molecular techniques (DNA extraction, ITS-PCR, cloning, ITS sequencing and T-RFLP); (ii) to study fungal communities inhabiting tissues with symptoms; and (iii) to test the pathogenicity of C. fraxinea to F. excelsior. Chalara fraxinea was isolated from 93% of stem cankers, 91% of necrotic leaf stalks, 27–28% of bark wounds and 30% of visually healthy leaf stalks. Molecular analyses of necrotic leaves, leaf stalks and bark revealed the presence of 25 different fungal taxa, 14 of which were detected in all three types of tissue sample. Chalara fraxinea was the second most common species (61% of samples), and only Cryptococcus foliicola occurred more often (70%). All eight of the tested C. fraxinea isolates induced necroses in bark and cambium on each of 86 inoculated trees, and all controls remained healthy. Average length of necroses caused by different C. fraxinea strains varied from 4·2 to 8·9 cm, but the differences were statistically insignificant. Instead, differences in resistance of individual trees to C. fraxinea were observed.