Wednesday 31 October 2012

Ash veterans of middle Sussex Visit them before they die

Ash veterans of middle Sussex

Visit them before they die

Dave Bangs, October 28th 2012 Tel: 01273 620 815

Don’t let anyone tell you that Ash is a second rate tree.

To be sure, it cannot make the size of ancient Oaks, Sweet Chestnut or Beech, but it can make magnificent giants of three spans and more trunk girth (a span being the stretch of my open arms...six feet). It can make the coppice stool holes that Marsh Tits love to nest in, and the sweetness of its trunks can bear a cloak of lichen in many colours and the greatest profusion.

It is as outgrown coppice and hedgerow stools that many of its most characterful trees now manifest themselves, and a quarter of all the old Ash trees we’ve recorded in the middle Sussex Weald (between the Adur and the Ouse) are coppice stools.

Yesterday we walked along the upper greensand scarp north of West Burton and Bignor Park, partly along the green lane past the slivers of woodland marked as Grevatt Wood on the map, and partly through the scarp slope woodland north of Bignor Roman Villa.

What extraordinary Ash giants we saw !!  Shortly after leaving the lane north of West Burton to walk the scarp top green lane we saw a huge Ash maiden of about three spans. Then, at top of the Brackeny slope, SU 998 147, due south of the visible, raised camber of Stane Street crossing the marshy ground below, we saw a magnificent pollard Ash, with great sprawling limbs and a coat of hoary lichen (much Parmelia perlata and others of the genus; many Pertusarias and grey crusts). It was over three spans in girth. Just westwards, at the point where Stane Street breasts the scarp top, there is another three span Ash, with a ‘geocache’ in a trunk rot hole.

On the scarp slope just west of the Bury - Bignor parish boundary there is another open wood, SU 991 150, with many fine Ash maidens – and a three span Oak. We counted four Ash giants, one over three span, and three over two span girth. There may be more.

That part of our walk was only about two thirds of a mile, yet we had found seven Ash veterans in that time, as well as abundant younger Ash and gnarled old hedgerow stools long outgrown their last plashing.

This is Ash is the rest of the Upper Greensand country and the Downs...and as is the clay land of the Low Weald and the Wadhurst Clay outcroppings of the High Weald.

If we lose Ash in these landscapes we lose their clothing and character.

On the greensand bench north of West Chiltington and Thakeham there are some fine veterans, like the nearly-three-span Ash at the top of the scarp east of Woodshill Farm, below the footpath, TQ 097 196, and the huge coppice hedgerow stools of the tiny lanes, valleys and holloways.

On the shrunken greensand bench east of Wiston, at the ghost farm at Buddington, TQ 162 122, on the top of the bank, there is a truly gigantic Ash veteran of 3.5 span girth, by my crude measuring.

On the Brighton Downs I love the whopping great Ash and its daughter at the northern end of the Crooked Moon Hedge, TQ 233 072, north of Holmbush. In the mother tree a swarm of Honey Bees was emerging from a rot hole when I first visited. There is another huge Ash veteran in the scarp bottom rew east of Ditchling Beacon, and north of Western Brow, TQ340 130...and when we first found it there was a colony of Honey Bees living in its bole, too.

At Ashcombe Bottom, south of Blackcap, on the site of the ancient Bocholt, where the Battle of Lewes was fought, there is a grove of several tall Ash trees which stand together on the parish boundary in the upper valley, TQ 371 121. They are not separate trees, but linked in a part circle by their roots...They are the outgrowths of a truly gigantic old coppice stool that must have marked this boundary for centuries. A Blackbird was quietly sitting her eggs in her bough cleft nest the last time I looked.

In the middle Sussex Weald between the Adur and the Ouse we have counted 36 veteran Ashes, but we have omitted many from our count because the sheer numbers of giant hedge and coppice stools make accurate recording difficult.

They include the huge old coppice stool of 12 big poles east of Lower Ryelands Bridge, on the bank of the Ouse, north of Lindfield, TQ 342 272...and the three span pollard Ash in a hedgerow east of Brantridge, TQ 292 301, in Balcombe parish...and the gnarled and crumbling old Ash pollard above the gill head, south east of Great Thorndean Farm, TQ 273 255.

They include the Rackhamesque three span Ash  just east of Christ’s Hospital station, TQ 148 291...and the four old Ashes - all of two spans and more - in and around High Wood, in the bend of the Arun’s upper waters, south of Broadbridge Heath...and the 2.5 span Ash just between Parthings and the railway line on the south west edge of Horsham, TQ 157 297.

A pox on all Condem/Libcon ministers and their corporate mates...and a pox on greedy nurseries and garden centres and their consumerist the expense of nature and of their grossly underpaid staff.

May they these Methuselahs...these great survivors...may be doomed by their neglect to rot...

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