Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ash to ashes

The thin elm in the centre is dead - the one to its right will follow soon

The prospect of ash dieback has caused widespread concern over recent weeks. Thankfully the press has highlighted the potential devastation rather than focusing on the attempts to make political capital out of the crisis. It's been helpful too in communicating the actions we can take to report possible cases. A garden blogging friend told me the other day that #ashdieback is now one of the most used tags on Twitter.

I'd like to think we can contain the blight - but I'm pessimistic. The whole affair is reminiscent of the foot and mouth outbreak - maps appearing on the website with a worryingly large number of dots for reported cases. Yesterday, the BBC carried an article advising walkers to wash their boots and hose down their dogs after visiting woodland with ash - oh, yeah, like that's going to happen!

My last post was about beetles and how few most people can easily identify. Trees are not far behind. My company recently moved to new premises called Rowan House - you'd think it was obvious and yet I had to point out to senior colleague this referred to a tree! How many in the office would be able to spot a poplar or a willow I wonder?

But as with beetles, identification is almost beside the point.

Earlier this week I walked the grounds of Lacock Abbey - visitors might not know the names, but they know the immense trees that grow there, and to think of them gone is beyond horrific. Ash trees used to line the roads of the streets I grew up in - last to leaf and first to fall, my mother would say - and one of my earliest memories is making dens in the russet piles that the wind would blow to our garden.

My garden now is full of trees: walnut, maple, beech and holly. There are firs too, some to be removed - and there are elms, five in fact.  Or at least there were.  This year two died from Dutch Elm Disease - it's near certain the others will go too. Elms still grow in the UK, but they invariably succumb as they reach maturity, particularly when emerging from hedgerows.  It is possible that by thinning the garden wilderness I inherited, I've inadvertently hastened the demise of mine.

At the advice of a tree nursery I've chopped one to a metre above ground - there's a faint possibility it will sprout again.  The other has had it, and needs removing quickly. I'm told the logs would burn if I seasoned them for a year - but even then they give little heat.  I shan't bother - apart from anything, it seems too sad an end.


  1. I had elms when first in France and being shown a recent photograph of what had been my garden I was stunned by the difference, the elms now gone.
    No, elm is a lousy wood for burning...but it resists water well. Planks used to be used for the strakes either side of the keel of boats and bulk wood used for the piles of jetties.

    And now, with the demise of the ash I am racking my brains for the reference I want to the sacred trees of pre Christian England....I have a feeling they were five in number...but my books are still in France and the internet useless!

  2. It's the stuff of nightmares for DH and me, Mark. The big tree which has figured in a number of photos on my blog is an ash, as is its neighbour, and the thought of our home without these majestic trees is heartbreaking.

  3. And now for some good news. Elms are set to return to the UK. There's resistent species which are going to be part of an active programme. Must search out the reference.

    Swedish research has also found some ash are resistent to dieback, though whether this can be capitalised upon before our ash trees are decimated only time will tell.

    The Botanic Garden at Atworth has elm trees in his nuresery garden. Apparently all is well until the elm reaches over 4ft tall. The beetle tends not to invade below that height. If yours resprout again, it might be worth bearing that in mind.

  4. I don't think of burning a tree as a sad end. Although I can regret the tree's demise, I can thank it for giving back some of the heat it took from the sun, take pleasure in the flames, and incorporate the ash into the soil, the better to nourish future plants and trees.

  5. We just have beech, silver birch, cherry and apple and holly trees in our garden, no ash thankfully. It is so very sad when this happens, but from what I understand the government knew about it months ago and have only this last week banned foreign imports, so why didn't they act sooner and if they had, would the situation not be as dire as it now is?

  6. Shame about the elm trees but it is unfortunately now inevitable that once they reach a size which the Dutch Elm Beetle considered large enough to make a meal of they will be targeted. While they are still alive it is possible to have them injected which increases their chance of survival but I guess it isn't cheap. However, don't believe that they are no good for burning. Once seasoned they are very good indeed with high calorific value, burning with intense heat and for a long time, almost as good as oak. In fact at smaller diameters they are better than oak of comparable size. They are also extremely good for construction PROVIDING that they are kept either permanently wet or permanently dry. It is difficult to say how long they take to season as that depends on how long they have been dead in the tree before they are cut down. Ash is a weed tree in my garden. I'm digging them out all the time.