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I woke with a start to the insistent “shush..!” of the librarian. Until I managed to collect my thoughts, I was transported briefly back to the Reynold’s Library – that silent school sanctuary of o-level revision and homework. But with a start I realised that I was listening to the sound of night visitors to the garden and as I became more alert, I heard the sound repeated. This time less the human and the more animalistic. Now, again, with an answering call which only slightly varied in pitch. It was the same sound for which we had paused to listed for a few moments near the old farm buildings – sometimes a hiss, sometimes a screech. These were the roost contact calls of Barn Owls. The owls were hunting over the now deserted gardens, quartering the deserted lawns, driveways,mushers and beds and gentle calling to one another as they went. The sound sneaking through the open window of the sleeping house. Their visit drawn by the gathered presence of rats and mice which had deserted the now depleted fields and hedgerows. Perhaps a less welcome thought than that of the school librarian’s insistent order. In this slightly sleep addled way I drift back to sleep

As the sun rises during early November the light struggles through the murk. Birdsong has almost disappeared, with the exception of the metallic ticking from a resilient Robin and a short insistent burst from a Wren hidden deep within a knot of bramble. Otherwise the silence lies heavy and the impression of a decline into Winter is hard to avoid.

I check the Ash trees along the railway line as I pass them. They have dropped most of their leaves making it harder to spot those with die-back. What I can find does not encourage me. If those grand mature specimens in the valley have succumbed to Chalara fraxinea, it seems unlikely that these closely packed, self-sown youngsters are going to thrive for much longer. It strikes me that most people do not notice the trees for what they are; distinctive boundary markers, etchers of sky line and creators of cool shade. But when they go, or threaten to do so so, the very loss of volume within a country village is immense. The accompanying photograph shows what is essentially the carcass of a village tree – the whisper of leaves has gone and soon too will the shadows.

The loss of an English Ash

November 9, 2012

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The slow death of a 100 year old Ash tree in the village is surely due to the currently rampant Chalara fraxinea infection – although this has yet to be proven. I have been watching it’s slow decline over the last two years or so, initially just the tips of the branches, but last year the dieback was noticeably dominant. The tree, in some firm of emergency measure, sprouted secondary “epicormic” growth from the larger branches, but this summer even those have failed. By the autumn the few leaves it could produce were on lower branches which had sprung from the root or thereabouts. By this autumn these leaves were withering in the manner shown on the Forestry Commission’s identification sheets. I now wait for the Forestry Commission to asses the tree properly.

I do not think that this is the only tree infected – there is another mature specimen showing similar symptoms, but not as advanced. It is a concern of course that a number of the others in the parish are already infected. This is highly likely. The real question t ask is whether any will have a much-hoped for resistance. The landscape is certainly going to change.