We’re fond of ash trees around here. They grow like weeds, popping up in the hedge rows, with their big grey trunks and feathery leaves. But according to an article in the Guardian today, ash trees are under threat. In Denmark, a fungus called Chalara fraxinea (known as ‘ash die-back’ for short) has apparently killed about 90% of Danish ash trees in just a few years. And now the fungus has spread here. Apparently, cases have been found in a number of UK nurseries and plantations. The government is considering a ban on imported ash trees, although experts are concerned it may already be too late.
It seems crazy that anyone is importing ash trees into a country where they are a native tree, and grow so easily. When we needed to buy saplings to plant here last winter, I was surprised to find that it’s common practice for many UK tree nurseries to import cheap saplings – even of native trees – from overseas. We wanted to avoid ‘tree miles’ – lots of freight transport just to get a little sapling to our front door. So in the end, we bought from a lovely local nursery, Botanica, who grow all their own stock about half an hour away from us. It just seems to make sense, that local stock will be adapted to our conditions, climate and local diseases.
So our trees arrived and we planted out a little copse of about 40 trees last winter – we hope it will provide us with some fuel wood in a decade or two. We had access to some free ash saplings, and it was tempting just to plant that one species, especially as ash is supposed to makes fantastic firewood. But we went for a mix, putting in ash but also some common alder, wild cherry, bird cherry, birch and field maple as well. Now I’m glad we did. Hopefully, whatever diseases come our way, and however crazy the weather gets, some of those little trees will be able to thrive. Encouraging biodiversity is a simple permaculture principle – the idea being that any system (whether its fuel wood, a vegetable garden or farm crops) will be more resilient if a mix of species are present. As our weather becomes increasingly erratic and extreme, we need this diversity more than ever, to give ourselves the best chance of coping.
So here’s to our little mix of trees – and especially to our ash saplings. Hope you make it – we’re rooting for you.