Home

Last of the Brampton Elms

September 8, 2013

A giant fell this morning. The skeletal carcass of the last English Elm to have reached maturity in the village has been brought crashing to ground. It had far outlasted its contemporaries – many of which were felled when the Dutch Elm Disease struck in the 1970’s – but now decay had finally so-weakened the stem that it was unlikely to remain standing for a further winter. So, at ten minutes to ten on a Sunday morning, following a short chainsaw cut and a haul on a tractor winch, the old tree cracked and came to earth. What was left of its crown, which once touched up to 100 feet in height, split in to many pieces on impact. Tell tale star-like shadows of fungal growth showed through where the viable bark had spilt away. These are the marks of its death and decay. The stump looks as weak as cork. There is a gap in the skyline. Some ten years ago tree surgeons had taken cuttings from its then fully leaved crown in the hope that it was disease resistant. But the cuttings came to nothing and the disease took hold. Now this is its epitaph.

It’s young relations, mostly clones of the parent, still sporadically grow as hedge plants for a few years until the Dutch Elm gets to them. No Elm in the parish reached maturity in recent years. The bare branches remain in hedge lines for a few years until they are tidied away or trimmed back. The Elm is no longer a feature in the local landscape. Although it held on for longer than most in the area.

20130908-141838.jpg

The weather softens after a fortnight of snow and frosts.But the hard spell that we have just experienced served to expose the variety of wildlife within the parish. Hunger and the serious business of courtship pushed dog fox and vixen into the daylight. The urban fox has become a common sight in Norwich, but the country fox is a a much more wary creature altogether. Their travels and territories are defined by river and railway line and the thaw releases the strong scent in many places. A sharp frosty starlit night is punctuated by their barks and screams as boundaries are set.

Elsewhere, Jenny reports whole families of hunting otters in the gloomy late afternoon light. On the arable fields the destructive power of foraging Roe Deer show up as snowy excavations. Teal spring out from out from under the reed fringed bank of the Bure and Grey Geese graze on the whatever passes for exposed vegetation on the Common. In the garden flocks of finches cluster in a frenzy of shuttle visits around the feeders. The wintering Little Egret manage to contrast in shades of white with the decaying snow.

A short burst of sunshine and the presence of Celandines, Snowdrops and the early shoots of Daffodils in the churchyard promise the approach of Spring. The colour green seems to suddenly return from the overnight thaw.

In mid January I am looking for change. Having ushered the new year in, I always feel it is time to look for those hints that Spring is not so far away. Last weekend the majestic wind blown song from an Oxnead Mistle Thrush sufficed.

Yesterday, the resonant drumming of a Great Spotted Woodpecker on a Brampton Hall Oak echoed along the Bure. It is a sound that I always connect with the emergence of Daffodils and the stirring of Primroses. Indeed, in the churchyard, the first leaves of some of the wild stock daffodils are inching above the sward. Even in that state they manage to lift away that winter feeling. As I walk out of the copse a Muntjac Deer loses it’s nerve and springs out of the thicket ahead of me. The beehive is hidden in a small glade, quite spartan now and surrounded by the skeletal form of young trees.

I nervously take a look at the beehives. Nervously, because they had a tough year in 2012 and there must always be question marks over the quality and quantity of their food reserves. I am encouraged that the clusters of each the colonies seem to be making the right noise as I tidy up around the hives. But there is a long way to go yet and the losses are often later in the winter or into the early spring, so we have sugar solution ready in reserve for that point in time.