I’ve just got to hug my trees!

Sorry, but while sitting here doing nothing, I’ve had a long time to think about this subject. Just how many more trees are we supposed to lose in the UK before something is done so that we don’t lose any more? Trees are so precious, they are the lungs of the planet that clean the air for us mammals to breathe, taking in carbon dioxide and giving out oxygen. Trees are where thousands, if not millions of insects live, which feed the birds etc, so they are vital in the foodchain. Some varieties of trees live for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and are part of the landscape that we and our ancestors all grew up with, so when something goes wrong and our favourite trees are dying, then we quite rightly get annoyed.

First of all we had Dutch Elm disease which came to the UK in the form of a beetle which lives under the bark. Elm trees had been part of the landscape in England for hundreds of years, now we have hardly any left, almost wiped out in just a few decades. Any trees that do exist are only young ones, when they get to about 10 yrs old, that is when the beetle gets under the bark and starts to kill the trees.

Oak tree

Our oldest oak, it must be over 300 yrs old from the size of the trunk.

Next came Sudden Oak Death which is a fungus which lives in host plants ( like rhododendron ponticum ) and spreads to the oak trees and eventually kills them. Hundreds of oaks have had to be felled and masses of rhododendron have been scrubbed out to try and contain the fungus but so far it is still spreading. The oaks are such majestic trees of the countryside and in parkland, and were worshipped in the days of the Druids, thousands of years ago. I think it must be one of the first trees I knew when I was a child. My brother and I used to climb one in the garden where we lived and drop acorns onto unsuspecting people passing underneath, I went back to see the tree a few years ago, it’s much smaller than I remembered! We have 5 oaks in the woodland strip here.

Chestnut tree

Our oldest Chestnut tree which we think must be over 200 yrs old.

Just in the last few years Chestnut trees are now under attack, as I know all too well from the ones that we have in the garden here. When the leaves emerge in the spring they look fine, but by June/July it is obvious that they have been infected once more by a moth which has travelled across Europe and arrived on these shores about 15 yrs ago. It has now spread over most of England and while it won’t actually kill the tree, it weakens it because the leaves can’t photosynthesise properly. If this happens each year, then the tree will become weaker and weaker and eventually die. We have 4 chestnuts in the woodland strip.

Ash tree

Our largest Ash, possibly 200 yrs old.

And now to the Ash trees which we have heard so much about in the last couple of weeks. We, the public have only just heard about it, but the “experts” have known about this fungus causing havoc in Poland and Denmark’s forests for some time now and still they have allowed the importing of mature ash trees ( which were infected) from Holland where it is also prevalent. I am amazed!!!  Sorry to say it, but ash trees are just huge weeds, they seed everywhere, I pull hundreds of seedlings out each year, if anyone wants any, they don’t have to import them from abroad!! Knowing what a long tap root they put down, I just wonder if the imported mature trees will survive for very long anyway.  Ash trees are now dying in the east of England and thousands of trees are now being felled and burnt. I read in the Sunday Telegraph this last weekend, that we are supposed to burn all our ash leaves, do they really think I’m going to sort them out from the rest of my leaves for leaf mould? We have 6 ash trees here. Our woodland strip, apart from the acers, witch hazels and amelanchier that I have planted, is just oak, ash, and chestnut.

I’m sorry, please excuse me, but I feel I must go and hug my trees while I still have them, I just don’t know what else I can do.

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20 Responses to I’ve just got to hug my trees!

  1. Cathy says:

    Your woodland strip is delightful, Pauline – mine will take many years to catch up! Perhaps it is easier to cope with the loss of smaller and newer plants through disease, infestation or inclement weather, but the thought of losing mature trees like yours through no fault of your own would be unbearable – like ripping part of the soul out of the garden. Although our hedge is over 200 years old the trees (apart from apples and a past-its-best plum) are either ones we have planted ourselves or self sown seedlings. Oh, and the holly and the parent of our hazel seedlings I suppose. Nevertheless, they hold the structure of the garden together, despite their relative youth, and your passionate desire to hug your trees and keep them safe is a further encouragement to me to consciously utilise the elemental energies in my garden, asking Nature to tend its own when we struggle with these external threats that are often out of our control.

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Cathy, I thought you would understand how I feel about my trees. If the huge trees go, the garden would be totally different, they provide the shade for all my hellebores, snowdrops and other shade loving plants, lets hope it never happens.

  2. burn all the ash leaves? That sounds like a line from Fawlty Towers!

  3. Jason says:

    I feel the same way. Chestnuts were once one of the most common trees of the American eastern forests – now they are virtually all gone. One of the reasons is that when they started dying, property owners would rush to cut them down because the price for chestnut wood was going up. There are efforts to develop a resistant American chestnut, and I fervently hope they are successful.

    Beautiful American elms were once very common around Chicago. All but a few are gone. There are plenty of Chinese elms, but they are not at all the same. The new hybrids are an improvement on the Chinese and Siberian, but still fall short in my view.

    And now the ash trees. Arborists seem fatalistic that it is only a matter of time before they go the way of the chestnuts. And we have some of the same problems with oaks – that is really painful.

    Are we going to get to the point where the only things left are ginkgos, tree of heaven, and mulberries – in other words, weed trees? I surely hope not.

    • Pauline says:

      Jason, its so good that you feel the same. It seems that the problem is all over the northern hemisphere, which I hadn’t realised, and yet still trees were being imported from countries where disease is rife. Why do they have to import trees from abroad anyway when we have so many nurseries here growing them from seed?
      As far as the ash trees are concerned, there are a few trees in Denmark and Poland that have survived and they are hoping to breed from these in the future, but their experts tell us that our mature ash are doomed, will have to wait and see if ours survive, as there is nothing we can do in the meantime.
      Hopefully it won’t be just the exotics that survive, surely some of our indiginous trees will be strong enough to fight off any disease that comes their way, let’s hope so.

  4. Christina says:

    Please give all your trees a hug from me Pauline. As you say it is unbelievable that trees are imported with not thought about the pests on them, when it is already known there is a huge problem. Here someone imported something and the packaging was chestnut with a parasite now all the trees around here are infected and this is a crop here! So people’s livelihoods are affected. Christina

    • Pauline says:

      I will certainly give them a hug from you Christina. I’m wondering what will happen at Chelsea and Hamton Court next year, will they still import mature trees as they have in the past? I think we might see different shows in future, or I hope we do.
      So sorry to hear about Italy’s Sweet Chestnut problem, people will have to start thinking more responsibly when items are imported from elsewhere in the world ?!
      Nurseries here are burning all their seedling ash trees at the cost of 10s of thousands of pounds and they have been told that there is no hope of compensation, where will it all end?

  5. Anna says:

    Hugs from my ash and chestnuts to yours Pauline and from me to you. What a wretched situation it seems to be and no solution in sight. How to go about burning ash leaves is quite beyond me – just one puff of wind and you would be thwarted before you could even contemplate making a bonfire of them. Who has come up with such an unrealistic suggestion?

    • Pauline says:

      Thank you Anna, that means a lot. The suggestion for burning leaves has come from the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, according to the Telegraph, after they heard that some councils were suggesting they should be composted and others saying they should go to landfill. In the end, unfortunately, I don’t think anyone really knows what to do for the best.

  6. Lyn says:

    I am sad for you that all these beautiful trees are disappearing. Here in Australia, we are starting to have a problem with Myrtle rust, which affects our native species in the Myrtaceae family. This is a huge family that contains all the Eucalypts, Callistemons (Bottlebrush) and Leptospermums (tea trees) as well as lots of other genuses and so has the potential to wreak havoc on much of our native forest. It came from South America in 2010, apparently. There seems so little we can do about any of this, and hugging our trees while we can is probably as good a response as any.

    • Pauline says:

      Lyn, it seems we are all affected, one way or another. All our native trees seem to be fighting for their existence whichever continent they live in. I don’t know what is happening to our world, but I don’t like it, and don’t want a world without trees. All our scientists are going to have to work hard and come up with a solution to all these problems. So sorry to hear about the rust which your trees are having to fight, is there a solution or will they just be left to die?

  7. Your woodland strip, with the mature trees is wonderful. I love trees, and the atmosphere they give to a garden. Like you, I enjoy the little plants that grow underneath them, too. I hope that a solution is found for stopping the spread of some of these diseases, other than just waiting for them to run their course through our beloved trees.

    In Western Canada, it is the mountain pine beetle that that has devastated millions of hectares of pine forest.

    • Pauline says:

      NS,unfortunately, it seems we are all affected on way or another, no matter which continent we live in. We love our woodland strip, it is the biggest bit of woodland we will ever own and was one of the major reasons for us buying this house, if we lose the huge trees, it will be devastating.
      Having seen a small part of Canada’s pine forest when on holiday, I can sympathise if they are being destroyed by a beetle, is anything being done or will nature take its course?

  8. I can understand how you must feel Pauline. We have a different set of problems here, but the result is the same, in terms of the devastation. As Northern Shade suggests, we have a huge problem with the pine beetles. Here in Ontario, there are also ash borers. Trees are not the only things effected. We also have a huge problem with Japanese Beetles devouring vines, roses and other garden plants. The problem is so large, it feels frankly overwhelming. I as a gardener, feel quite powerless and frustrated.

    • Pauline says:

      Jennifer, I think the problem world wide is spiralling out of control, but don’t know what the answer is. We all seem to be importing our problems from countries where maybe there isn’t a problem. I can’t see any politicion announcing that all imports must stop and no-one can have foreign holidays any more!!
      Like you, I feel very angry, frustrated and absolutely powerless. Your Japanese beetle sounds horrendous, is it possible to get rid of it, I have always been organic, but I think that might make me reach for a spray!

  9. Alberto says:

    Hi Pauline! here in the north of Italy we lost almost all the chestnut trees we used to have in our woodlands and this happened about 20 yrs ago without anyone doing nothing. In the south where palms are grown everywhere they have a beetle that kills all the hundreds of year old palms they have. I can really understand your preoccupation in general and even more for your garden as you have some impressive specimens in there! give them a hug for me too. (I can’t hug my oaks because they are still too skinny…)

    • Pauline says:

      Hello Alberto, to think that most of your Chestnut trees have gone is devastating. As Christina was saying, so many people rely on the chestnuts for their livelihood, and we rely on them also to go with our Christmas turkey. The Mediterranean is renowned for its palm trees, it just won’t look the same, all because of a beetle causing so much damage. I’m going now to hug a few trees for you!

  10. wellywoman says:

    I so agree Pauline. It makes me so angry. It feels like we have just let ash dieback into the country. We are an island and should use that to our advantage by having strict phyto-security measures. I have no idea why we are importing tree saplings of native species, particularly ash which as most gardeners know is a prolific self seeder.

    As for burning ash leaves and hosing ourselves down after walks. . . well it is too late for that. Horse, door, bolted springs to mind :((

    • Pauline says:

      WW,I agree with everything you say, it should never have happened with us being an island, when is somebody going to take it seriously?! I think all we can do is hope that some of our trees survive and are proved to be immune to the spores coming from abroad. If only there had been an outcry when the disease was first discovered, maybe then it wouldn’t have been too late, as I think it now is unfortunately.

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