‘…to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness: that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified’. Isaiah 61:3b
Following the logic of Genesis 1:26-28, where humans are made in the image of the Creator and given dominion over his creation, then all the trees included in this final part of the series can be viewed as being planted by the Lord even if man’s agency is involved. We may try to regard ourselves as being separate from nature, not dependent on it, and exempt from any responsibility for it. The Bible says the opposite.
We move on from the three trees met in the previous article and walk through our new woodland walk to the kissing gate to ponder on another mature Ash (Fraxinus excelsior) with a girth of 124 inches which the tree-guide.com Tree Age Calculator estimates at 167 years old (+/- 10%). Standing as it does in the ancient field boundary hedge along the south-eastern edge of the floodplain I doubt that anyone planted this ivy-clad specimen.
There are signs of ill health – leafless large branches – presumably the dreaded Chalara die-back apparent on so many Ash trees now. Although parent to many offspring on the meadow none survive more than a few years before die-back takes them and our veteran will struggle to replace itself if this continues. I may not see it, but I keep hope alive that this beloved and important species will ultimately come through its challenge. Trees play a very long game. You will notice the owl box placed on its trunk – Barn Owls have not used it in my time but Stock Doves have been noted and in 2021 we were enthralled to watch a pair of Kestrels nest building, mating and subsequently raising three young. Disappointingly, this year the cheeky face of a Grey Squirrel stares at me from the entrance hole.
Still moving along the boundary we come to an ancient coppiced colossus near to the largest pond on the meadow which was already dead when I arrived in 2015. An enormous Field Maple (Acer campestre) I believe. It has been steadily hollowing out and collapsing and we have closed this section on safety grounds. Home to a Honey Bee colony for several years and continuing as a valuable tenement of insect life, I am reminded that I must investigate the wood-boring larvae that, along with fungi, are slowly consuming it. Standing deadwood should not be routinely cut and tidied away but allowed to cycle through its decay without intervention from us. It will be decades before it finally disappears.
Many of the living maples along the field boundary are coppiced and exhibit grotesque carbuncled stools up to 6 feet across. One has drifted and rooted multiple times to create a linear stool with many stems reaching upwards but all being the same tree.
The final tree of note along the back of the meadow is a lone mature, but not particularly old, Oak (Quercus robur). Oak is an occasional species here amongst the dominant mix of Hazel, Field Maple and Ash in drier conditions with Ash again and several willow species in wetter areas.
Our series on the trees of Foxearth Meadows ends here but the story of these endlessly fascinating wildlife will continue to feature in future articles. We focussed on the visual but I invite you to think for a moment of the unseen: trees with their slow patient timescales communicating with each other through roots linked by mycorrhizal fungal hyphae and responding co-operatively to share resources or to defend themselves. I note that when The Bible paints a picture of redemption and restoration for people it compares us to ‘trees of righteousness’.
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