A few generations ago a feature of England was its great elm trees; they provided wood for people’s furniture, even for coffins, shelter for animals and beauty in the countryside, but Dutch Elm disease turned groves of elm into very rare things. memories reside in ash; you look up to the tree that looks down on you. Today in Britain we face losing or decimating another one of our traditional species of tree – the Ash tree.
The beautifully named fungus Chalara Fraxinea is attacking ash trees having made a journey from continental Europe and found our ash very much to its taste. Large amounts of ash have been killed by disease in Denmark and in central Europe. It is thought that the fungus is mainly spread by the importation of foreign ash trees into Britain, so the Woodland Trust has called for an immediate ban on importing ash. At the moment the government is carefully considering that a ban might be implemented, or dithering, depending on your point of view.
The disease caused by the fungus is known as ash die back which is an ugly name for an ugly thing; it causes the leaves to get brown and the crown of the tree to wither. So far it has appeared in many parts of Britain, but only in trees planted in colleges, car parks and so forth for ornamental purposes. Fortunately it has not yet appeared in our woodlands.
There is an old folk song about ash trees, called the Ash Grove. Unusually for an English folk song it originated in Wales and in Welsh. It is a beautiful sad song of memories and I make no apology for repeating one version of its worlds here.
The ash grove, how graceful, how plainly ’tis speaking,
The harp through it playing has language for me;
Whenever the light through its branches is breaking,
A host of kind faces is gazing on me.
The friends of my childhood again are before me,
Each step wakes a memory, as freely I roam;
With soft whispers laden, its leaves rustle over me;
The ash grove, the ashgrove alone is my home.
My lips smile no more, my heart loses its lightness,
No dream of the future my spirit can cheer;
I only can brood on the past and its brightness,
The dead I have mourned are again living here.
From every dark nook they press forward to meet me;
I lift up my eyes to the broad leafy dome,
And others are there, looking downward to greet me;
The ash grove, the ash grove alone is my home.