IT’S NOT LOOKING good for our Ash trees. The fungus, Chalara fraxinea, that has killed around 90% of Ash trees in Denmark and in other parts of Europe has spread here, with cases reported from several locations in Yorkshire. It’s hard to think of this familiar view from my studio without those two tall Ashes on the edge of the wood, the one on the right thickly covered in ivy. As I type this two Magpies have flown into its top branches.
But two large Ashes at the entrance to the woods have blown down since we moved here in the 1980s and a third was felled before it got a chance to fall on the newly built houses but the wood doesn’t take long to rejuvenate itself and fill in the gaps.
Ash saplings soon colonised a rock fall in the old quarry in the wood; they prefer well drained, even rubbly soils, for example the steep little roadside embankment leading to the bridge over the railway at the bottom of Quarry Hill.
On damper ground by the stream that runs through the wood, Crack Willows are the dominant tree although a level meadow area, long neglected, has been transformed to Alder woodland in the few decades that we’ve been here. Horse riders used to break into a canter on this short stretch of open level ground but now what’s left of what was once a conspicuous path has almost disappeared in the thicket of new trees.
It’s hard to imagine the West Yorkshire countryside without Ash trees – they grow like weeds in the right habitat, and their wavy limbs are a wayward contrast to the dominant sturdy but rather dour Sessile Oak. I feel that they’ve got a central role in north country folklore because of their place in Viking mythology.
My guess would be that if they go Sycamores would move in to replace them in most situations. Sycamores have similar ‘helicopter’ seeds; samara is the exotic sounding botanical name for this kind of winged nut. Perhaps in more open areas Silver Birch would take the place of Ash as a coloniser.