After two long sessions on hands and knees in the spinney by our yard weeding ash seedlings I could be forgiven for never wishing to see the wretched tree ever again. The bigger they get (often disguised in shrubbery and undergrowth) the harder it is to winkle them out, roots and all. A cut just allows them to pollard, so that’s no answer. The parent trees around me can afford to loose the 250 odd babies I’ve massacred with my King Herod act. This year’s keys on the 15 year old parent trees look as plentiful and green as ever, ready to drop in a month or so to start the reproductive guerrilla battle once again. Prolific it may be, with an efficient dispersal system, but it is now also very vulnerable. First identified in Poland in 1992, and in the UK in 2012, Chalara ash dieback is putting this common and graceful tree in deadly peril. A fungal disease, chalara fraxinea is spread through infected imports up until 2012 (when our government halted them) as well as wind borne spores from mainland Europe. The spores enter the trunk at branch junctions, leaving tell tale diamond shape cankers. The pathogen then enters the tree’s water transport system, cutting the flow and thus killing its host. Young trees are the most susceptible while older trees take a few cycles of yearly infection to finish them off. A distinctive and defining tree in many northern landscapes in particular, wholesale lose would have a devastating effect. Our neighbours at Oldstead, who have done fantastic work in planting the new wood at their place, which we see and admire from ours, believe their some of their young trees are infected and have duly reported it to the authorities. Scientists are working to identify trees less susceptible to CAD and undertaking resistance breeding trials to grow stock most likely to survive infection. Let’s hope they are successful and in time to save the ash. Beginning to think to myself it may be worth adopting an orphan or two and pot them up in reserve for future replacements, should they be needed.

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