• Sidetracked by ice-artscapes

    When I was up in Scotland about three weeks back I was out on the scout for some good early morning ash tree pictures and stepped down to the water's edge of the Dundonnell River and was completely sidetracked by the ice pattern lying over the flowing river beneath. It's a little after the event but I was so blown away by the pictures I found I thought you'd like to see some of them. A bit like cloudscapes I do love the way these images are transient and irrepeatable. It would have been amazing to watch them forming overnight.

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  • Snowed in

    I'm sure lots of people will be posting extreme snowy pictures right now, but this incredible weather (in March if you please) is probably the greatest fall of snow we've seen in the 28 years that we've lived in Stoke Lacy, exascerbated no doubt by the high winds. Since it turns out that the County Council only have one single snow blower we're not expecting to be released any time soon. Bit frustrating as the main road is only some 500 yards away & appears to be running freely. Hunkering down and throwing another log on the woodburner.

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  • Remarkable ash trees further north than Rassal

    I have just returned from a trip to Scotland (beat the snows by a couple of days) to photograph some special ash trees for my forthcoming monograph "Ash", to be published later this year (exact dates to follow).

    For a long time Rassal Ashwood in Wester Ross has been heralded as the most northerly ash stand in Britain - even I gave it this accolade in my "Hidden Trees of Britain", but the owner of an estate in the Dundonnell valley, about another 50 miles further north insists that his ash trees have been overlooked by this claim. I went to investigate.

    Sure enough the valley is well stocked with plenty of fine specimens of ash - admittedly most of the denser concentrations of trees are old plantings along the riverside - probably placed there some 200 years ago, judging by their size, to strengthen the banks with their root systems. Dotted throughout the valley there are many fine ash maidens, but virtually no evidence of coppice or pollard management. Most of these trees are fairly evenly spread through birch/alder woodland, with occasional oaks and the odd beech. Many of the alders show signs of having been coppiced in the diatant past, but it does seem strange that the ashes were allowed to grow on. Perhaps there was another purpose in mind for the timber? One of the biggest ashes that fell a couple of years back was cut up and the rings counted - it had a diameter of about 70-80 cms, but contained over 300 annual rings. I compare this to an ash of very similar size that we felled on our land here in Herefordshire a few years back and that contained 160 rings - quite a difference! It vividly illustrates how variable growth rates can be depending on latitude, soil, aspect and climate (altitude not really applicable in this case). Given the number of deer and sheep in the valley it's pretty amazing that any ash trees were ever able to get away in the first place, but again looking after the livestock might have been another reason for promoting ash, as the leaves have been used for animal fodder since time immemorial. They simply must have had some sort of protection when they were first planted though.

    With the snowclad peaks, dominated by An Teallach, in the background and that low winter sunlight I love so much I was in love with the Dundonnell valley for a couple of very productive days.

    Scotland had a couple of other ash treasures to offer too, but you'll have to wait for the book for these...

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  • Fallen Giant

    Last year part of the mighty Buttington Oak, near Welshpool in Powys, peeled away from the rest of the tree and fell. In January the rest of the tree, quite probably imbalanced by the third that had previously collapsed, fell to the ground in stormy weather. This was the second largest oak in Wales with a girth of 36ft 2ins and grew, near enough, to the projected alignment of Offa's Dyke, quite probably having been taken as a boundary marker between England and Wales at some point in time, although obviously not as far back as the 8th century. In fact no specific historical or cultural associations can be attached to the tree - it was simply very large and incredibly old - best guess 800-1,000 years old.

    After photographing it in 2011 for my "Heritage Trees Wales" book I must admit that it looked solid and healthy enough to have lasted a good while longer, but one can seldom get an inkling of what's going on inside such a huge old burry bole unless one has the benefit of high tech ultrasound kit. I also think that agricultural practise might have contributed to the tree's demise - agrochemicals in the soil when arable held sway and then compaction to the surrounding soil when cattle were grazing and sheltering beneath it. Who knows? Maybe the tree had come to the natural end of its life anyway.

    No matter, it is always sad to hear of another fallen giant, but at least we have some photographic memories.

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  • Ash bark beetle - an unwitting artist

    Out yesterday when I came upon a collapsed ash pollard next to a hedgerow. Been down a couple of years I'd say & much of the bark was peeling away. Suddenly became quite fascinated by the indentations left in the sapwood, beneath the bark, by burrowing ash bark beetles. The patterns are reminiscent of the same ones left by that introducer of deadly Dutch elm disease, the elm bark beetle, but in this case, thankfully the ash bb does not introduce a harmful fungus to the tree. In fact, in most cases, the ash bb only burrows into the bark of dead or dying ash trees. The central channel is bored out by the female, where she then lays her eggs & as the larvae hatch out they then chew their way sideways, making the lateral channels. How strange that they so seldom cross over, thus interfering with their brood mates and their progressive munching, prior to hatching out, boring out through the bark and the whole process beginning all over again.

    Although this invasion of 'fly', as the old craftsmen called it, was a nuisance to them as it spoiled the wood, there is a certain beauty to this methodically hewn heiroglyph.

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Archie Miles photography

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