Touch wood - all will be well

One night recently, I heard an almighty cra-a-a-ck like a firework going off in the field called Ash Patch. In the morning, I saw a huge broken branch, hanging dangerously from our ash tree. Was this the dreaded fungus causing ‘ash die back’?

I wonder if you remember Dutch Elm disease when all our elm trees were wiped out. The unthinkable happened then and could happen again. We must look after our ash trees, I thought, before it’s too late.

I called a tree surgeon from Oswestry and he came. Wearing protective clothing, he scaled our mighty tree, roping himself on as he climbed. The branch was sawn off neatly and he left a pile of cut logs for our burner. They will give us a good steady heat next year.

“It is not ash die back,” said the tree surgeon, “you would see tips of green shoots shrivelling, as well as die back at the top of the tree,” we breathed a sigh of relief. “However, it is still in danger,” he added.

The hooting owl sits here at night amongst the black buds and this is where the squirrels play in the day under the filigree canopy. This is where the winter fieldfares congregate and where love doves sit in the summer cooing and kissing.

‘How can we save our tree?’ we asked. The tree surgeon suggested cutting the ivy away as it was making the branches heavy and could have caused this one to break. So, that is what we have done. Our ash tree is safe for the moment.

It is the second time our ash tree has been threatened. One day I came home to find that electricity poles were being erected near the tree. There was going to be a transformer slung between them and the tree branches were going to be cut to make way for the poles. I didn’t know what to do. This was before Swampy dug tunnels and eco-warriors lived in trees to save the countryside and I had to go to work, so I left a feeble note, ‘Do not cut this ash tree. Signed…’ and then I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.

This mighty ash took root in the hedgerow during WWI and then survived and grew through WWII. It would have seen horses pulling carts around Ash Patch. It would have seen families with growing children bursting through our front door. Then, electricity and water came up the lane and the old well was covered over and paraffin lamps were thrown out. It survived freezing temperatures in 1963, the drought of 1976 and the gales of 1987. Now it was going to be cut down in the name of progress.

But somehow, the ash tree was not cut down and the poles and transformer were put up in a kind neighbour’s field instead, away from any trees. Our ash was safe that time too.

Now, I have heard that there is a third threat, the emerald ash borer beetle is about to come from Sweden and kill any surviving ash trees.

It seems that there is nothing we can do to save them this time, except perhaps cross our fingers, call for Swampy and touch wood (if there is any left).

(adapted from my Nature Notes column)


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