Ash Dieback: Government shambles & urban bias in govt

mark at mark at
Tue Oct 30 10:34:32 GMT 2012

Ash dieback: This shambles fills me with fear for my beloved 

Failure to stop the spread of ash tree disease is just the latest 
example of a government far too focused on urban concerns

by Tobias Jones, The Observer
Saturday 27 October 2012

News that a fatal disease has landed on British soil understandably 
causes alarm. Today, the disease in question – Chalara fraxinea – 
threatens trees, not humans, but it's a sign of the esteem in which we 
hold our ash trees that the alarm bells have been so loud. This could 
be like Dutch elm disease all over again, an unstoppable plague that 
transforms the countryside.

As someone who manages a 10-acre woodland in Somerset, I've always 
thought that Fraxinus excelsior, our native ash, is the most 
magnificent specimen in the woods. It's beautiful, with a smooth, 
honey-coloured bark and a clean, white wood. Its delicate, pinnate 
leaves let in the light and the tree is useful for almost anything: 
it's both strong and elastic, so we use it for making all sorts of 
furniture, anything from chairs to four-poster beds. Ash can be used 
to make snooker cues, tennis rackets, hockey sticks and oars. It's 
also the finest firewood: as the old saying goes, "ash wet or ash dry, 
a king shall warm his slippers by". In both Greek and Norse mythology 
humans were made from it. Odin was speared to an ash – the mythical 
Yggdrasil. Ash was used both for the symbolically important maypole 
and the Yule log.

For the last three years, since we set up our woodland shelter for 
people in crisis, we've been thinning out the willow, hazel and 
hawthorn to give more space and light to our ashes. Believing the old 
planter's proverb – that the best time to plant a tree was 20 years 
ago, and the next best time is now, we've added 200 ashes in various 
clearings. We've protected the coppice against deer.

So the news that they're now endangered fills me with melancholy and 
something close to fear: when you heat your house and your water with 
wood, ash is your oil. And when the ashes are the tallest trees in the 
woodland, they're your canopy, your roof. It's as if someone had told 
you that, pretty soon, your fuel will run out and your tiles will 

The government's reaction to the crisis has been flat-footed. A 
disease that had destroyed 90% of the ash trees in Denmark was first 
noticed here eight months ago: in Buckinghamshire, Leicester, 
Scotland, Yorkshire and County Durham. There were links to imported 
saplings. Last week was simply the first time the dreaded disease had 
been witnessed in mature trees rather than nursery stock.

So for eight months nothing has happened. A ban should have been 
imposed on imported ash saplings immediately. Bear in mind that this 
pathogen was first discovered in Poland in 1992. It's not as if we 
haven't had time to act. It's the sylvan equivalent of knowing about 
HIV/Aids, but forgetting to advise about condoms.

This is the umpteenth time the countryside has felt aggrieved by 
metropolitan policymakers. In recent years, the squires of the 
countryside have been dismayed by the ban on foxhunting, a piece of 
legislation which put wind in the Countryside Alliance's sails. 
They've been infuriated by politicians lacking the cojones to cull 
badgers and have also been appalled that their incomes are dwindling 
as costs rise. Milk prices are just the most recent example of 
hard-working farmers being screwed. Our bees are dying out, either 
because of the weather or the varroa mite. The cost of feeding our 
pigs has increased 25% in two years. Even urban visitors to the shires 
recognise that the government's idea of selling off a third of the 
Forestry Commission's 1.85m acres was barmy; and that cutting the 
commission's budget by 25% would drastically reduce its ability to 
combat this catastrophe.

Rising fuel prices also affect rural areas unduly; mobile reception 
and broadband coverage is patchy; access to public transport and other 
services is often woeful. This year has also seen the worst harvest 
for a generation. It's understandable that rural residents feel hard 
done by.

Our instinct is to blame politicians. Many feel our metropolitan MPs 
inevitably have a blind spot when it comes to the countryside. In a 
democracy in which 90% of the electorate live in urban areas, they're 
bound to. "The countryside," says Jonathan Dimbleby, a former 
president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England, "is a second-level 
problem for politicians. Over the last 20 or 30 years they've 
concentrated so much on the urban environment that they only wake up 
to the countryside when it becomes a problem."

Of course us agriculturalists will always moan. As the English 
humorist AP Herbert wrote:

The Farmer will never be happy again;
He carries his heart in his boots;
For either the rain is destroying his grain
Or the drought is destroying his roots.

If we're honest, we should be grateful for the huge subsidies and 
grants that have come our way in recent times. Our woodland is a tiny 
operation, but we have received a few thousand quid to create a 
5,000-gallon pond, plant 450 trees and control Japanese knotweed.

And yet anyone who lives in a rural area still feels there's something 
wrong in the representation of the countryside as somewhere to 
"escape" to. Television offers a deeply sentimentalised view of it, an 
idyll where stress is replaced by serenity. For most people it's not, 
then, a place of toil and blisters, but the backdrop for weekend 
recreation: it's where daytrippers go for walks, see birds, or shoot 
birds, enjoy stately homes and roaring fires. For most Brits, the 
countryside is a pleasurable museum, not a tough place to live.

In other countries it's different. France has its mythical "France 
profonde", the deep soul of the nation that resists urban fashions. In 
Italy, Sicily was known as the "granary of Rome" and, even now, the 
country's beloved pasta is provided by native wheat fields. America 
has its corn belt and even elected a peanut farmer, Jimmy Carter, as 

In other nations it just seems as if rural labourers are a vital niche 
of the electorate. That, perhaps, is why no British politician that I 
can remember has ever spoken so clearly to the farming community as 
Eisenhower did when he said, parodying bureaucrats: "Farming looks 
mighty easy when your plow is a pencil, and you're a thousand miles 
from the cornfield."

The problem is perhaps historical: we were the first industrialised 
nation and our ancestors left the land in such large numbers that, 
even now, the terms "agricultural" or "a bit village" are easy 
insults. The idiot in any Shakespearean production always has a 
Somerset accent. Britain was the first global superpower, meaning that 
long before we became obsessive foodies, we already had exotic tastes 
for foreign foods and timbers. Sugar, tobacco, tea and mahogany became 
commonplace. The reason the UK imports 42% of its food isn't just 
because we're a crowded island, it's because we insist on eating what 
our climate can't accommodate.

The result is a complete lack of connection between what's on our 
plates and what's in our fields. And I'll bet my fine breeding sow, 
Harriet, the chair you're sitting on to read this isn't made from 
native timber. If it's wooden at all, chances are it's from the 
forests of Russia or Poland that supply Ikea.

We want everything to be cheap, whether it's furniture or milk. That's 
understandable, but there's a hidden cost. I remember when I was 
buying those 200 ash saplings, a woodsman warned me not to save a few 
quid by buying from a nursery that imported them from Hungary. "Never 
know what might come in," he said, looking suspicious. At the time, I 
thought his comment was the woodland equivalent of racism, but I did 
as he advised. At a marginally increased cost, I bought all our 
saplings from a nursery that guaranteed British provenance.

I assumed the woodsman was mildly ignorant. In fact, he was very wise 
– because it's absurd that we've been importing ash saplings when they 
regenerate so prolifically from our 18m UK specimens. From tomorrow, 
Owen Paterson, the environment secretary, will introduce a ban on 
imports, but it's far too late. The disease is here and spreading. 
Fifty thousand ashes have already been burnt. Shakespeare's "blessed 
plot" will soon, sadly, be a lot more bare.

Tobias Jones is the warden of Windsor Hill Wood 

Fuel price rises. The cost of petrol has soared over the past 10 years 
and rural campaigners complain that this has a disproportionate effect 
on those who live in the country and have greater distances to drive.

Poor access to mobile phone networks and broadband internet services, 
and inadequate public transport, limit rural business opportunities, 
it is claimed.

The government's bid to sell off a third of the Forestry Commission's 
1.85m acres and cut the commission's budget by 25% caused fury.

The decision to scrap the proposed badger cull this month was 
perceived as one imposed by city-dwelling politicians on country folk.

Farmers have been badly hit by dwindling prices for their products, 
with milk being the most recent to be affected. Bee-keepers have also 
warned that the spread of hive diseases could have disastrous effects.

From: 	"david bangs" <dave.bangs at>
Sender: 	Diggers350 at
Subject: 	[Diggers350] Fw: The Ash - visit these giants before they 
die [1 Attachment]
Date: 	Tue, 30 Oct 2012 00:08:09 -0000
To: 	<diggers350 at>
Folk with Sussex connections and folk who love the Ash might like this 
Dave Bangs

Ash veterans of middle Sussex

Visit them before they die

Dave Bangs, October 28th 2012 dave.bangs at Tel: 01273 620 815


Don’t let anyone tell you that Ash is a second rate tree.

To be sure, it cannot make the size of ancient Oaks, Sweet Chestnut or 
Beech, but it can make magnificent giants of three spans and more 
trunk girth (a span being the stretch of my open arms...six feet). It 
can make the coppice stool holes that Marsh Tits love to nest in, and 
the sweetness of its trunks can bear a cloak of lichen in many colours 
and the greatest profusion.

It is as outgrown coppice and hedgerow stools that many of its most 
characterful trees now manifest themselves, and a quarter of all the 
old Ash trees we’ve recorded in the middle Sussex Weald (between the 
Adur and the Ouse) are coppice stools.

Yesterday we walked along the upper greensand scarp north of West 
Burton and Bignor Park, partly along the green lane past the slivers 
of woodland marked as Grevatt Wood on the map, and partly through the 
scarp slope woodland north of Bignor Roman Villa.

What extraordinary Ash giants we saw !!  Shortly after leaving the 
lane north of West Burton to walk the scarp top green lane we saw a 
huge Ash maiden of about three spans. Then, at top of the Brackeny 
slope, SU 998 147, due south of the visible, raised camber of Stane 
Street crossing the marshy ground below, we saw a magnificent pollard 
Ash, with great sprawling limbs and a coat of hoary lichen (much 
Parmelia perlata and others of the genus; many Pertusarias and grey 
crusts). It was over three spans in girth. Just westwards, at the 
point where Stane Street breasts the scarp top, there is another three 
span Ash, with a ‘geocache’ in a trunk rot hole.

On the scarp slope just west of the Bury - Bignor parish boundary 
there is another open wood, SU 991 150, with many fine Ash maidens – 
and a three span Oak. We counted four Ash giants, one over three span, 
and three over two span girth. There may be more.

That part of our walk was only about two thirds of a mile, yet we had 
found seven Ash veterans in that time, as well as abundant younger Ash 
and gnarled old hedgerow stools long outgrown their last plashing.

This is Ash is the rest of the Upper Greensand country 
and the Downs...and as is the clay land of the Low Weald and the 
Wadhurst Clay outcroppings of the High Weald.

If we lose Ash in these landscapes we lose their clothing and 

On the greensand bench north of West Chiltington and Thakeham there 
are some fine veterans, like the nearly-three-span Ash at the top of 
the scarp east of Woodshill Farm, below the footpath, TQ 097 196, and 
the huge coppice hedgerow stools of the tiny lanes, valleys and 

On the shrunken greensand bench east of Wiston, at the ghost farm at 
Buddington, TQ 162 122, on the top of the bank, there is a truly 
gigantic Ash veteran of 3.5 span girth, by my crude measuring.

On the Brighton Downs I love the whopping great Ash and its daughter 
at the northern end of the Crooked Moon Hedge, TQ 233 072, north of 
Holmbush. In the mother tree a swarm of Honey Bees was emerging from a 
rot hole when I first visited. There is another huge Ash veteran in 
the scarp bottom rew east of Ditchling Beacon, and north of Western 
Brow, TQ340 130...and when we first found it there was a colony of 
Honey Bees living in its bole, too.

At Ashcombe Bottom, south of Blackcap, on the site of the ancient 
Bocholt, where the Battle of Lewes was fought, there is a grove of 
several tall Ash trees which stand together on the parish boundary in 
the upper valley, TQ 371 121. They are not separate trees, but linked 
in a part circle by their roots...They are the outgrowths of a truly 
gigantic old coppice stool that must have marked this boundary for 
centuries. A Blackbird was quietly sitting her eggs in her bough cleft 
nest the last time I looked.

In the middle Sussex Weald between the Adur and the Ouse we have 
counted 36 veteran Ashes, but we have omitted many from our count 
because the sheer numbers of giant hedge and coppice stools make 
accurate recording difficult.

They include the huge old coppice stool of 12 big poles east of Lower 
Ryelands Bridge, on the bank of the Ouse, north of Lindfield, TQ 342 
272...and the three span pollard Ash in a hedgerow east of Brantridge, 
TQ 292 301, in Balcombe parish...and the gnarled and crumbling old Ash 
pollard above the gill head, south east of Great Thorndean Farm, TQ 
273 255.

They include the Rackhamesque three span Ash  just east of Christ’s 
Hospital station, TQ 148 291...and the four old Ashes - all of two 
spans and more - in and around High Wood, in the bend of the Arun’s 
upper waters, south of Broadbridge Heath...and the 2.5 span Ash just 
between Parthings and the railway line on the south west edge of 
Horsham, TQ 157 297.

A pox on all Condem/Libcon ministers and their corporate mates...and a 
pox on greedy nurseries and garden centres and their consumerist the expense of nature and of their grossly underpaid 

May they these Methuselahs...these great survivors...may be 
doomed by their neglect to rot...

Dave Bangs

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