Elm trees used to stand proudly in our woods. I know this because John, who has been tending the garden here since the 1960s, remembers them, and also because we still have some in a hedgerow by the bridleway. They only ever reach about 15ft before dying back again, a reminder of the deadly powers of the sac fungi spread by its willing henchmen, the elm bark beetle family. I’ve become used to this cycle of tristesse, but the prospects for our oak trees are overtaking it as the number-one sylvan crisis.
Acute Oak Decline is becoming increasingly documented and its consequences could be cata-strophic for this great tree. I’ve become obsessed by dead branches and thinning leaf cover, but healthy oaks also go through a dying process and sparse canopies are one of the characteristics of the tree at certain stages of its life. When normal trees begin to rot on the inside, they can still live for decades, providing a mass of micro-habitats.
However, dark fluid seeping from cracks in the bark is an indication of bacteria infecting the tree. The scientists need to work out what’s natural ageing and what’s a species-threatening disease. A cycle of dying hedgerow saplings really would be something to cry about, and is no future for our most noble of trees.
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