Ivy, death and autumn’s insects

Over the last few years I’ve kept track on the passing of a big, old apple tree. When I first ‘knew’ it, it had some leaves and an apple or two – and there was some ivy on its trunk and some boughs.

Then, the leaves didn’t appear one spring a few years back. Since then, the ivy (Hedera helix) has grown to engulf the dead tree.

Now, I know there are ivy-haters out there. I’ve run into them in the past and know that the most extreme feel they need to be out and about ‘rescuing’ trees, otherwise ivy won’t stop until it has felled every last one.red-admiral

In one case someone told me that he kept a saw in the boot of his car and would use it to cut through ivy stems so that the climber wouldn’t kill its supporting tree. I tried to put the case for ivy, but worried that he might use the saw on me if I didn’t move on sharply.

I’ll say it here though, ivy does not harm trees. A healthy mature tree and the grow that’s growing on it are more of a partnership than host and parasite.

The ailing apple tree was an opportunity for its ivy. As it sickened, its canopy thinned and the ivy flourished in the full light.

In time the weight of the ivy over-balanced the dead tree, and it began to shift as its decaying roots lost grip. It took a storm last winter to finally bring tree and ivy down.

Since then, it’s been fascinating to watch as the ivy has adjusted to its new orientation. The plant has been able to re-set its bearings and respond accordingly.

Now there are flowers at the tips of its uppermost stems. Ivy heads for the sun and then forms flower heads at the limits of its reach.

They’re in bloom now and will be until late November, providing an excellent source of food for all sorts of insects, like flies, bees, wasps and butterflies.

At the downed tree today they were out in force, warmed by some afternoon sun. Few wasps this year, at least here in Pembrokeshire, but it was good to see few late butterflies – a comma, a small tortoiseshell and a couple of red admirals, both as good as new.


Learning to live with ash die-back

At first I told myself that I was adding two and two to make five, or 555. Perhaps the withered leaves and greying bark were just a reaction to a run of dry days.

Now though, it’s official – I have the dreaded Chalara fraxinea, or ash die-back. Or at least, my trees have.

The ash trees in the hedges around my Pembrokeshire garden nearly all now show the symptoms of the lethal fungal infection and the diagnosis has been confirmed by the Forestry Commission’s Tree Alert service.


It is a depressing prospect. The spread of the disease is unstoppable and it promises a transformation of landscapes to rival the one that came in the 1970s with Dutch Elm Disease. In the long-term there’s a hope that some ashes will show a resistance to Chalara, but by then the vast majority will be decaying and dead.

There’s nothing I can do about my hedges except to start thinking about what will happen when the ashes are dead and gone. So, this autumn is going to be about gathering tree seed (acorns, hazelnuts and sycamore ‘helicopters’) and starting my own back-garden tree nursery.

*The Tree Council has been running an annual Seed Gathering Sunday for years and it has now become Seed Gathering Season. This year it begins on September 23 and runs until October 23. More info here.

Chris Packham and hare loss

The row over the impact driven grouse shoots have on the countryside seems to have become a celebrity story. For the tabloids its Chris Packham v. Ian ‘Beefy’ Botham.

Personally, I’ve never had much time for cricket. To add your name to the e-petition that calls for a ban on driven grouse shooting visit this page – as of today the total number of signatures was just over 119,200.

Have a look at Chris Packham’s latest Youtube video on the subject here.