Tag Archives: Smallholding

Ash Dieback – a slow motion catastrophe

To those in a nice flat in the city Chalara Fraxinea, or Ash Dieback as it is commonly known, is probably a (brief) discussion point over a gingerbread latte before returning to the truly important topic of ‘Strictly’. For those with a few trees it becomes at least relevant but for people like us it is a huge huge disaster. We have over 2 acres of mature woodland that is roughly 90% ash. The aim is to coppice the woodland to provide us with all of our heating and hot water needs. If we lose our ash trees not only will we have a decimated woodland which will take 10 years to restore but we will have to buy in wood to heat the house over that time, which we can ill afford.

Ash is my favourite wood – so much so that it is the logo of our website. This is due to its wonderful burning properties, beautifully light and open canopy that encourages undergrowth and clean subtle grain, strength and workability for furniture and building. Not only would we be in trouble from a self-sufficiency point of view if we lose our Ash but, in a truly tree-hugger way, we would be very upset at the loss of some graceful, powerful and, not to mention, old trees.


So a quick update on the facts (thanks wiki):

  • -The disease is characterised by leaf loss and crown dieback in the infected trees
  • -First discovered in Poland in 1992… yes, 20 years ago!
  • -By 2008 the disease was also discovered in Scandinavia, the Czech Republic, Slovenia, Germany, Austria and Switzerland
  • -By 2012 it had spread to Belgium, France, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Romania, Russia, Britain and Ireland.
  • -The number of sites has doubled in the UK within the last month
  • -Young trees will usually die in their first year. Older trees may survive a few seasons but will succumb eventually
  • -A proportion (<5%) seem to have a genetic resistance to the disease


The reason for the title of this post is that I have rarely been more annoyed at the government for such ineptitude and slowness to react to an impending disaster. As the disease has spread across mainland Europe it has been clear that there is no easy way to stop it…  but we have one clear and obvious advantage – we are an island. So when, you might ask, did the government stop the import of ash trees from Europe knowing, as they did, that the disease was progressing inexorably towards us (And that we could quite easily produce enough of our own ash saplings)?…October 2012. WHAT?!?! That’s 8 months after the disease had already been found in the UK at sites that had received saplings from nurseries!!
Now we have to watch a farcical show as various committees discuss strategies on how to close the gate after the horse has bolted, had a few foals, retired to the seaside and written a postcard to the committee about the new extension to the stable and how glad they left that gate open so many years back. The government is being sued for its lame response – but that doesn’t do us small-fry much good. And most strategies now being discussed are focussed on how to replant all those woodlands that will undoubtedly be ravaged over the coming years.


Here at Penybanc we are keeping a close eye on our small-leaved friends and trying to form our own strategy to manage it but, needless to say, the outlook is bleak…

How things have changed since we left the Big Smoke

The 5th of November marked our second anniversary since selling our London pad and buying Penybanc. A lot has happened and today’s events are a pretty good example of how different our lives have become.

The first thing  Jules does on getting up at dawn is let the geese and the chickens out and then light the fire, while I feed and change the baby. We threw on clothes and went out to put the cow out to graze and then catch, tag and worm two weaners. While Jules fed all the animals I sorted the pig movement license and other bits of paperwork for selling the pigs. All this by 9am. It is not quite the same as getting up, showering, getting the tube and a coffee on the way to the office. Then there were other countless little jobs that we won’t bore you with but we rounded the daylight hours off by delivering our last two weaners to our local housing cooperative buddies (in part exchange for a willow weaving lesson). We looked at the green electric tape surrounding the enclosure a little dubiously as it was barely visible even to us in the dusky light but, being optimistic, Jules lifted the pigs out of the trailer (I could only vaguely assist as they are a) far to strong for me and b) I had Melinka sleeping in a sling on my chest) and put them into their new enclosure. Rather predictably the first shock the piggies got sent them tumbling straight out into the coppiced woodland and scrub around. Poor Jules spent the next hour and a half chasing piglets in quickly fading light. By the time Jules caught them (one of them having been caught twice) one of his trouser legs was so badly torn that the whole leg almost came off and he was covered in scratches. Let’s put it this way, he definitely doesn’t have soft office hands any more!

Anyway, we have just stoked the fires and are now off to bed at 9.30pm. Rock on!