To the Norse, it was the tree of life. Vikings called themselves, Aeslings, men of ash, believing that the first man was made from an ash tree. The universe, they believed, spins on an ash tree axis, Ygddrasil, the world tree, which has earth in its roots, and heaven in its canopy. Legend says that when the ash trees die, so will we. Little wonder therefore that when the ash dieback disease struck in Denmark, it caused deep fear about how much we have destabilised our life support systems on earth.

In Druid lore the ash is the world tree, which holds together this world (Abred), with the waters of the lower world (Annwn), the upper world (Gwynfyd) and infinity (Ceugant) beyond. The Celtic or Druidic magician Gwydion also bore an ash staff or wand.

In Norse mythology a great ash tree called Yggdrasil binds the world together. The name apparently means “Odin’s horse”, or even a gallows tree. There are many stories associated with it and it is full of various places and creatures. At the foot of the tree sit the three women known as Norns, who spin the destiny of men, like the Fates in Greek mythology.

While the basic “world tree” just links the above and below, Yggdrasil bound together not one world but nine, each a small pocket world. Perhaps like planets connected by wormholes.

There is a small hope that unique British races of the species—isolated from continental Europe 8,500 years ago—may prove unusually resistant to the blight.

During the 19th century, as global trade increased exponentially, so did the incidence of tree blights. In the early 20th century, after rich countries instituted biosecurity regimes, the growth rates slowed, and in America, at least until recently, remained fairly linear. But in Europe, around 1960, the infection rate picked up, very likely due to the trade-boosting effect of economic integration. This not only spread diseases around the continent itself. It also made the law-abiding countries of northern Europe, such as Britain, susceptible to the sloppier customs regimes of the continent’s southern fringe.|btn

A seven-acre section of woodland near Bickleigh belonging to farmer John Greenslade has been decimated by the disease, and a major programme to uproot and destroy affected trees is under way.

Mr Greenslade began planting Byway Woods 20 years ago and has won awards for it.

a YouGov poll conducted for the Woodland Trust suggests.

Only 17 per cent recognised an ash leaf, despite the high profile of Chalara ash dieback, which experts have warned could be as devastating as Dutch elm disease. And 57 per cent could not identify an oak. Fewer than two-fifths (39 per cent) of young people could identify an oak and only one in 10 identified an ash. Older people did better: more than two-thirds (68 per cent) of over-55s identified an oak and almost a quarter (23 per cent) recognised an ash.


By far the most interesting part of the discussion, and perhaps the more optimistic, was identifying how we might rise to the challenge of making our precious trees and woods more resilient in the face of these on going and inevitable threats. With the input of renowned woodland ecologist, Keith Kirby from University of Oxford, the group considered how the natural and cultural history of our woods has shaped them – and what we can do to give nature a helping hand.

This cannot be a ‘one size fits all’ approach and there is no simple template that all woodland owners and managers should follow – in fact the tendency to try and manage all of our woods in the same way in the past or previous suddenly shifts in management resulting from pursuit of narrow theories has probably made them more vulnerable today. A vulnerability compounded by the continuing gradual loss of woodland and the fragmentation of woods and other habitats, leaving them disconnected and isolated.

But some key principles are emerging. Our woods will be more resilient if they contain a wider range of native species, and have a more diverse structure too – so that we have a good mix of types of trees and a range of young, established and older trees.

Prof Erik Kjaer from the University of Copenhagen, confirmed that a small proportion (around 2%) of ash may be naturally resistant or tolerant to chalara. There are also good signs that this characteristic can be passed on to progeny of those surviving trees.

See what we are doing: The Natural Ash Nursery –

Thousands of mature, native ash trees are being dug up and burned after the devastating disease ash dieback was confirmed in Devon.

About 2,000 trees at Byway Farm near Tiverton are affected, according to the Forestry Commission.

This is the first confirmed case of the disease in mature, native trees in the region – another nine cases have been confirmed in young trees that have been recently planted at sites across Devon and Cornwall, including two sites on Dartmoor National Park, according to Forestry Commission figures.

Ben Jones, of the commission’s England plant protection team, said: “It appears that the affected trees had the disease when they were planted in 1996-97. It is concerning and we are continuing our investigations into how the spread had taken place and how far it has spread.”