The other pandemic
OK, it’s not being called a pandemic, but the spread of Chalara, the Ash die-back disease, seems even more prevalent around here than Covid.
Over the past few years the ash trees that line our valley road have been looking sicker and sicker. Later to leaf up, sooner to drop leaves and going thinner on top than a cartoon monk.
Early last year Natural Resources Wales (what most people will remember as the Forestry Commission) started lopping ash branches hanging over roads and removing whole trees where they were concerned about them falling and injuring someone.
A year ago we purchased the field just below the house. It runs between the river and the road and we realised that there was a sizeable copse of ash right next to the road and most of them were looking sick. Also a copse in the garden by the treehouse were showing symptoms too.
It’s not easy making the decision to have to remove such wonderful trees. First there’s the cost of having tree surgeons in to do it safely, then there’s the worry that perhaps the trees might recover if left to their own devices. and there’s the loss of a part of the landscape. But overriding all of these is the concern of what might happen if due to the disease one fell and crushed a car or cyclist. Having been very nearly crushed by a huge oak some years back, I know how scary and potentially fatal that can be.
So it was with a heavy heart that we called in our friendly – and scarily efficient – local tree surgeon, Matt Corran, for a professional view. Unfortunately, he agreed with our prognosis and managed to fit us into his incredibly busy schedule.
Earlier this week he and his team member Kieran, turned up at the crack of dawn – well 8.15 to be honest! – and set to on the roadside trees. Within minutes he was climbing like a monkey into the highest branches of the first tree – chosen because it was in the middle of a bunch of trees so he could swing from one to another like Tarzan – but on carefully secured ropes rather than jungly tendrils!
It wasn’t long before the first branches came tumbling down – all carefully kept away from the stone wall – and a bare trunk of about 30 feet was left. Enter Kieran to administer the coup de grace, dropping it exactly where planned.
This process continued all day until we decided to leave the last trunk – it is far enough from the road and if it does fall one day only a few fish might come off the worse for wear – as both a symbolic totem and a new drilling site for the woodpeckers.
Now all I have to do is tidy up the branches and chip them and somehow drag out the trunks and other pieces to the road so I can get them to the yard and the firewood stacks. What took Matt and Kieran a day will probably take me a month!
The following day it was the turn of those by the treehouse. No climbing this time, but some very accurate felling by Kieran and some helpful winching by Matt and another dozen ash trees lay on the ground.
All very sad and a story being enacted all over the country as one of the most widespread and iconic British trees succumb to this disease, imported from somewhere else as part of the globalisations of trade and lack of careful controls.
I recommend a small book written by the late tree guru Oliver Rackham called The Ash Tree, published by Little Toller Press in 2014. Written in response to the first noticings of chalara in 2012. Only about 170 small size pages with lots of photos and illustrations, but most importantly written in the easy style for which Rackham was noted. He was a lovely man and once sat here at the same table where i am typing this when he came to the valley in search of ancient beech trees.