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.

I am particularly excited that the Real Life Science Studio in the John Hope Gateway will be hosting the Virtual Landscape Theatre for one week from 8th August. This interactive exhibit allows an audience to decide what actions should be taken to reduce the impact of ash dieback and to explore the implications of these choices. Intrigued? Come and find out more in August!

Diseases are a real threat to our trees and it is likely we will loose a high proportion of our ash trees. Yet, over the course of this project I started to feel more positive about the future of Scottish woodlands. It would be easy to listen to the mass media and get very depressed about the state of our forests and trees. But woodlands are dynamic and have always changed; over such long periods of time we humans find it difficult to comprehend.

We need to build resilience in the woodlands of Scotland to ensure their longevity. By this I mean managing woodlands in a way that creates diversity in the species present, diversity in the age of the trees and diversity in structure. If we do this it may be possible to maintain the ever-changing, unique woodlands of Scotland.

… when we stop and recall the bungled mess that has seen ash-dieback enter our island acres; when we hear the FC’s top expert suddenly warning of all the other diseases lining up to kill our trees – we begin to see that there aren’t really many folk out there standing up for trees.

The ones who are have their voices lost in a forest of other stories which overtake the headlines. Tree diseases are here today, gone tomorrow. Except they’re not. And something should be done.

A groundbreaking Show Garden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show 2013 from the Food and Environment Research Agency (Fera) will highlight how imported plant pests and diseases such as Chalara ash dieback, Oak Processionary Moth and Phytophthora ramorum, and invasive non-native species such as Floating Pennywort and Water Primrose, have huge potential to change how our landscape looks and severely impact our biodiversity and wildlife.

A beautiful sunken garden featuring herbaceous planting and a sculpture by Tom Stogdon is bordered by quintessential native trees and lush shade-loving planting.  This is starkly contrasted with sinister and shocking elements:

The National Trust is sponsoring the garden and is lending their support to its development.

The ‘Stop the Spread’ garden aims to inspire the public to play their part in preserving our horticultural heritage, biodiversity and wildlife by adopting good practices to minimise their chances of unwittingly spreading plant pests and diseases, or invasive non-native species.  These include sourcing plants locally, being more patient in planting small plants and watching them grow, cleaning footwear and bikes and other equipment after visiting the countryside; checking, cleaning and drying water sports clothing and equipment after each use; and disposing of plants and garden waste safely, never letting them escape into the countryside.

There are over 3,000 ash trees in Southwark owned by the council, and many more on private land such as golf courses and gardens. We have called on the council to draw up contingency plans in case the ash dieback disease, Chalara Fraxinea, takes root in Southwark. You can read out press release for more information here.

This map shows the location of all council-owned ash trees in Southwark. Click on the colourful numbers to zoom in and explore the trees.

Nonetheless, given that most people in the UK could not identify an ash tree, I do wonder why we care so much. It is not about ash per se – it is about woodland more generally and seems to transcend politics:

Bizarrely, this passionate concern is accompanied by an almost wilful ignorance. The historian David Dymond has described it as “hunger for false information”:

This devotion to what Oliver Rackham calls “pseudo-history” and “a triumph of unreason” baffles scholars, but I do not think it should. It seems to me that the forests we are in love with are forests of the imagination, where Robin Hood leads a band of merry outlaws and where lost children find gingerbread houses and make their fortunes. Interest in and passion for ancient woodland have grown enormously since the 1970s, while the number of people who actually go out and walk in woods has radically declined.

If we want woodlands to flourish, we have to bring that buried awareness to the surface and back it up with better information. For a start, identify your nearest ash tree and keep an eye on it next summer.