It is a sad year for our native woodland. Ash dieback disease was first found in February this year on some imported trees from the European mainland. Many of our imported trees start their life in this country, then are transported overseas to grow then return once ready for planting, don’t ask me why, something to do with economics. And it makes it very easy for disease to spread. But anyway this particular disease is airborne so it would have reached us sometime, maybe transportation just made it come quicker. It’s hard to say. This disease could potentially see our Ash tree population wiped out down to 2% of its current number. This has happened to forests on the mainland, so that is what experts are expecting to happen here. Symptoms first affect the saplings, with dead shoots and branches. Leaves wilt and die. Then the older mature trees show signs of dieback, become diseased and die.
Last week I went out walking in my local woods, spending some time with the Ash trees there. There may not be anything that I can do to prevent this disease from coming and destroying their numbers but I can definitely appreciate them while they are here. I can take photos and tell stories to remember.
According to Norse legend the first man was made out of the root of an Ash tree, his name was Ask. The first woman was made out of the root of an Elm tree, her name was Embla. In fact many ancient world cultures believed that humankind originated from the Ash tree and it features in many stories of gods and goddesses.
It is part of the Norse legends that the world tree was called Askr Yggdrasil …and yes it was also an ash tree. It had three giant roots, each one of them reached into one of the three levels where different worlds resided: worlds of gods, of dragons and the world of men. It was said that the leaves of this tree dripped with a sweet dew that the bees used to make honey. In Germanic tradition this world tree was called the Tree of Mimir. Odin himself hung on the great world tree to receive the sacred runes.
In old Britain the Ash was seen as a tree of great life and re-birth. Its bark was used to heal fevers. The leaves were used to ease rheumatism, as well as being laxative and diuretic. It is said that Ash made the best broomsticks for witches to fly upon. By coincidence it was also widely used to build aeroplanes.
The traditional British yule log was also an Ash, well known for its ease of burning even when freshly cut.
‘Burn ashwood of green.
Tis fire for a Queen.’
I feel a deep sadness that this is happening to our trees. There is grief that there is a loss of something. Yet I am also aware that our planet is a self-regulating system, much more conscious and self-sufficient than I know. I was in the woods of a farm recently, seeing just how much of his woodland were Ash trees. He too felt some sadness that so many trees would die but, ‘Then again,’ he said, ‘there will be a lot more firewood to go around!’ He also pointed out the Oak saplings had been struggling to find sunlight amid the fast growing Ash. He explained that with the Ash gone the Oak will have a chance to establish themselves and maybe our countryside will once again see a return to the Oak forests of old.
On a personal level I will be focusing my awareness to see if anything is getting under my skin, anything unseen coming in from the outside that needs some more attention.