We are continuing our series of articles highlighting Cornwall’s ancient trees with a look at some impressive ash trees scattered around a farm on the North Coast.

A farmer I visited this year suggested I take a look in a small field that he referred to as his celandine meadow (because of the carpet of yellow lesser celandine flowers that grow there in the spring). Not knowing what to expect, I was excited to see two stunning ancient ash trees growing there. The 5m girth of one tree (pictured below) is particularly impressive considering it of a maiden form, since it is often pollards that grow such wide trunks. The farmer explained that the tree has remained relatively unchanged since his took on the farm 150 years ago, and that the large hole exposing the hollow trunk has been a feature of the tree throughout that time.

The character of the tree’s immediate environment will have help it to reach such an age, since the small field with its tree-lined boundary is sheltered, and the in-field situation of the tree means it has little competition from other trees.

There is an obvious network of aerial roots growing down into the hollow trunk, enabling it to reabsorb nutrients from the rotten heartwood that has been locked away for centuries. Such big, old trees no longer require heartwood for water transport or rigidity, so it makes sense to recycle the nutrients. This particular ash tree has many bracket fungi. Some species carry out the beneficial rotting as mentioned.


Several other impressive ash trees are present on the farm, and the farmer mentioned discovering another ancient specimen recently, which was formed of a short but wide trunk and a single remaining branch. It was tucked away in a wooded area and incorporated into an old boundary hedge. I also clocked some veteran ash pollards that were last pollarded 15 years ago – work which was funded through an old stewardship scheme and must have provided a good crop of timber. Pollarding is a specialist job that should be undertaken over several years to prevent harm to the tree.


Ash dieback and ancient ash trees

Ancient and veteran trees often grow in open sites such as parkland, where the lack of competition from other trees provides suitable conditions for increased longevity, and trees develop forms that are resilient to high winds. In addition, ash trees in open spaces are often more resilient to ash dieback due to the drier conditions and are usually able to survive for many years while sustaining relatively few and minor symptoms. Therefore, many ancient and veteran ash trees are likely to persist much longer than other ash trees in the face of dieback, so are particularly precious at this moment in time.

To help protect important ash trees from the disease, all the ash leaf litter can be removed from around the trees in the autumn and winter, as this reduces spore production the following summer. Where a tree does die, it will continue to support a wealth of wildlife in its deadwood, so where there are no safety hazards, trees can be left to benefit the environment. More information about managing for ash dieback can be found by clicking here.


Do you have any impressive old trees on your farm?

To help spread awareness of, and advice for the protection of ancient trees, we are presenting this series in the FWAG SouthWest e-news to highlight a different farmland tree each month. We therefore invite you to send photos of a tree and a short description if possible. You could describe the tree, giving an approximate girth measurement (circumference at 1.5m height). Describe how you use the land around it and whether you consider the tree to be important to your family. Please send a photo and even a historical photo if you have one. We will select one tree each month to feature in an article, and with your permission, any special trees can be recorded on the Ancient Tree Inventory. Our articles will also include some recommendations for protecting trees in similar situations. These will also be added to a blog on the FWAG SouthWest website. From this collection, a winning tree will be chosen at the end of the year, based on appearance, age, cultural significance and the protection it has received.

Send us your trees! Send photos and a few words to Lawrie at [email protected]

Member PLUS readers might consider using their next annual visit to complete a survey of trees. We can map trees of particular significance, estimate their age and provide recommendations of management that will enhance their longevity. We will work with the Ancient Tree Forum to ensure we are providing the most beneficial advice.