Sunday, 25 November 2012


I was inspired to write this blog by a ‘Big Issue’ seller in a doorway of Edinburgh’s Waverley railway station. The Big Issue is a magazine sold by and for the homeless. This particular man looked so forlorn; it was such a dank, dreek and cold evening, even by Scottish standards, that I could not walk by on the other side. It is, I am very afraid to say, a long time since I have bought a Big Issue and I offered up a pound. It’s now £2.50, but a good read.

The cover attracted my attention: ‘What are we without our trees?’ What indeed? We are facing in the UK and in Europe the rapid spread of a withering disease of ash trees called Ash dieback. I did not realise that 30% of our trees in Britain are ash. To lose that proportion of our trees would be as disastrous as Dutch Elm disease that I recall from my 1970s childhood.

The UK government has called meetings of its crisis emergency committee, more used to combating threats of terrorism, to consider what can be done. Very little it seems, so trees with genetic modifications survive, but most do not.

I went out into the wood in our garden and found that we do have a much higher number of ash than I imagined. They all seem fine at the moment and as we are isolated, may be spared. We used to live in a delightfully wooded area called Ashridge, which as the name suggests, might be sadly and severely affected by the impending disease.

There have been heroic protests in the past, sometimes to save a single, prominent tree or a much-loved wood. The Pollok M77 protest was one such stand. As the Big Issue says, and I agree, quite apart from their commercial and environmental value, trees are a part of our sense of place and being. They feed our soul. To punch such a big hole in the fabric of everyday landscapes drains our spirits and lowers the mood. In a time where resilience and confidence is needed so much, this blow may have an even more disheartening result than we may now realise. We must do what we can, even if it is re-planting other species in the gaps that are left.

We need to do this for all of us, not least for the magazine seller in the doorway who may just now be homeless. We need as much hope as we can get.

David Jackman

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