I realised recently that it was 10 years ago when I started following the story of a single ancient ash coppice stool. In January 2011 the coppice stool caught my attention because someone had written with a black marker pen on one of its freshly-cut limb stumps, the following:
“This was one our best loved trees. We are sad that you have cut it down”Anon., January 2011
The words rattled me at first, because I thought they portrayed an ignorance for woodland management, and the ancient art of coppicing which is about rejuvenation and sustainability. On reflection, I realised that this was the not the best response, as surely it is a responsibility of those of us lucky enough to work our woodlands to bring the public with us.
I returned a year later to discover that some growth had sprouted from the ancient coppice stool, but it was being nibbled by deer. Little did I know then, that ash dieback was already among us.
So, earlier this month, I returned to the ancient coppice stool with some trepidation, wondering what I would find …
The good news is that the tree is still alive. When I visited, dogs mercury (Mercurialis perennis) and lords-and-ladies (Arum maculatum) were beginning to emerge from the still-cold soil, but I could feel the heat from the weak spring sunshine on my own face. Countless shoots had sprung from the old coppice stool over the years, but the largest was only the diameter of my middle finger. As many stems were brown and lifeless as were olive green; a sign that ash dieback was claiming most of the stems emerging every year.