• Ash in The Mendips

    On the hunt for remarkable ash trees and ash landscapes and the day was set fair last Friday for a foray to The Mendips. This range of hills bisected by several limestone gorges is prime territory for the ash and makes you realise just what a difference will occur in the landscape when ash dieback really makes its mark here.

    6.30 a.m and I'm walking the lip of Burrington Combe near Blagdon and the only soul I meet is a chap walking his dogs before work, otherwise this world is mine. Great light. Great colours. And the sidelit textures and shapes of the ash woods across the Combe are just what I'm after.

    After a couple of hours it's time to move on to Cheddar Gorge and again I find the solitude and the light. I'd forgotten quite how many whitebeams there are at Cheddar. I think I found one of the local specialities - Cheddar whitebeam, but there is a lot of common old Sorbus aria here too, and when the leaves are not fully out it can be tricky to positively identify the different species. I'd forgotten quite how much parking space is set along the road at the bottom of the gorge.... must be heaving in the height of summer.

    The afternoon shoot was a trek around the National Nature Reserve above Rodger Stoke - what Gerald Wilkinson in his 'Woodland Walks' considered the "best preserved ashwood in the Mendips", and I'm tempted to agree with him. Although ash dominant there is also an abundance of oak and hazel with occasional hawthorns, whitebeams, hollies and even small-leaved lime. I even spotted a fairly rare flower of the woodland floor - purple gromwell. Can't say I've ever seen it before in all my woodland travels, but maybe I just wasn't looking for it. Fabulous views out across the top of the woods to the Somerset levels beyond and while I was above the woods on Stoke Camp I discovered a quite remarkable acreage of ash regen. - some of it two or even three years old - all from seed blown out of the nearby woods. It made me realise how little these fields are grazed and also perhaps the lack of rabbits and deer to munch it all down. If this was left to do its own thing I'd love to see how quickly an ash wood could establish here.

    A few samplers for you to enjoy here, but a lot more to come soon, and a big announcement shortly......

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Archie Miles photography

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