Ash Dieback


Ash dieback really has got its grip on Exmoor.

A few thoughts from Nick and the team:

Over the past few years, we have been softly suggesting it would be a sensible idea to consider work being done in the near future. By work, we mean removal because we simply can’t take a risk around anything or anyone that may get hurt. We are not one for hard selling however, we are at a point that we are simply having to say no in some instances.   

In the last year alone we cannot stress enough the dangers our teams and many other across the country have put themselves in.

We can only safely climb and dismantle these trees if there is enough life in them. If felling is not an option, when climbing becomes impossible, you are looking at elevated platforms or cranes to carry out the work. You will incur the costs of such equipment, which quite frankly are very expensive. Where felling is concerned, a tree feller needs as much healthy timber as possible to make it do what we want it to do. Ash has long been mistaken as a brittle timber because it splits and tears when felling, but this isn’t quite right.

Ash is a tremendously flexible timber and it will flex to a great extent, until it can’t and then the result can be quite explosive. An oak for example just doesn’t yield. Now that being said Ash dieback is making the ash timber terribly brittle and the holding wood required to fell trees accurately is not as dependable as it used to be. Imagine having a car that hasn’t had an MOT for the last 4 years and then one day you have to slam the brakes on and you’re not sure what sort of state they’re in… That’s what we’re dealing with, people are getting hurt and equipment is getting destroyed.

We have noticed that the timber of trees that have taken 3 or 4 years to die is relatively okay. The trees that appeared fine 6 months ago and are now stone dead, they’re the dangerous ones. They’re brittle, they snap, they don’t respond to conventional methods and are dangerous.

Understandably a lot of people say to us “Well it looks fine for now, so I think we’re going to see what it looks like next year”. People don’t want to just cut their nice ash trees down at a whim and we agree entirely however, if they are showing signs, it may incur a far greater cost when it does need removing. Unfortunately, the cost increases to equally increase the safety of operatives.

If you have an ash tree in the middle of your field, leave it be. It is unlikely to fall from the base but more likely to start dropping limbs, twigs to begin with, and if there is nothing to harm then fret not, leave it be. We need more standing dead wood for invertebrates and bats anyway. If you do have concerns about ash trees and the extent of Ash dieback, get in touch with a professional and get an opinion soon. If these trees are too far gone you can’t expect someone to risk their life for a couple of hundred quid, especially when they have a family depending on them.

So, what is Ash dieback?

Ash Dieback is caused by a fungus named Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The fungus begins to work its deadly magic by blocking the water transport systems in trees. This causes leaf loss, lesions in the wood and on the bark and ultimately the “dieback” of the crown of the tree. The fruiting body of the fungus produces spores and these will attach themselves to fallen Ash leaves. The spores can disperse naturally and can reach over ten kilometres on the wind. This means naturally, the spread of the disease is very difficult to control.

Ash Dieback
Hawkcombe Woods – Credit ENPA

What to look out for:

  • Saplings will show dead tops and side shoots
  • The tips of the shoots become black and shrivelled
  • Dark lesions often long, thin and diamond-shaped appear on the trunk at the base of dead side shoots
  • Blackened, dead leaves, could look a bit like frost damage
  • The veins and stalks of leaves, normally pale in colour, turn brown

In late summer and early autumn (July to October), small white fruiting bodies can be found on blackened leaf stalks.

If you see or recognise any of the above please contact an expert in the field as quickly as possible. You can then ensure the disease is confirmed and the tree is dealt with accordingly. The Woodland Trust and the Forestry Commission are two places to start reporting what you believe could be an infection.

Discussion time:

The Ash tree has been part of Britain and Europe’s history for centuries. Folk lore and traditions include the Ash alongside many other ancient trees.

In Norse mythology, the Ash was held in the highest regard representing Yggdrasil, the tree of life. It’s branches reaching to the dizzying heights of heaven and the roots to the darkest depths of hell. The tree supported the 9 worlds. The Norse god of war, Odin, hung himself from the branches of the tree of life with his spear in his side to obtain all knowledge. This act was also reminiscent of Christ’s suffering on the cross. Anglo Saxon England referred to Odin as Woden and is still remembered in our calendar as Wednesday. The name Ash comes from Old English aesc, meaning spear as does it’s Latin name Fraxinus. Isn’t it interesting that both names refer to it’s earlier use and myth? Not withstanding Norse mythology, there are so many stories including the Great Ash Tree, Gelert’s Grave and The Wesley Tree to mention a few.

It is devastating that we are on the precipice of loosing such a large impact to our culture and landscape. We need to look to the future and come to terms with the facts. Our ancient, beautiful beast may not be a part of our landscape for much longer. This unfortunately, is going to leave quite a large gap in our hearts and landscape.

  • How do we replace such an iconic part of our landscape and culture?
  • What tree species will not have too much of an impact or change ecologically?

Have a read of Nick’s winning MacEwan essay entry to get our thoughts on what out landscape could look like.

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