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Gabriel Hemery

ash frontispiece early composition

The authors of The New Sylva visit an amazing venerable ash tree that will feature in the book.

Drawing a venerable ash

March 16, 2013

Gabriel Hemery

Regular readers will know that the authors have been searching for the best example of a venerable ash tree in Britain to feature in The New Sylva (read the story).

Yesterday we visited the chosen ash tree. It is growing in the ancient deer park at Moccas in Herefordshire, among dozens of other ancient oak and sweet chestnut trees. The site is owned by the Baunton Trust and managed by Natural England – please note that access is granted by permit only.

The ash tree at Moccas is an indeterminable age but certainly over 500 years old – unusually old for ash that does not have the longevity of oak or sweet chestnut. Its girth measures over 8m, and its huge bole is riddled with hollows and bulbous knolls hiding the stumps of long-lost branches. While the old crown has retrenched, a classic symptom of a veteran tree, several rapidly-growing new stems have arisen to ensure a healthy living crown.

Sarah Simblet working on the composition of the venerable ash tree for the frontispiece

Sarah Simblet working on the composition of the venerable ash tree for The New Sylva

Sarah Simblet had to work in the rain, which dampened the paper and softened the pencils she used to develop the composition. She made the most of the conditions by creating a drawing with bold lines to capture the features of the tree; treating the drawing as a first draft. Back at the studio she will start a new drawing based on this composition, working first in pencil before applying ink.

Sarah Simblet drawing in pencil

Sarah Simblet drawing in pencil, working on the ash tree drawing

If Sarah is happy with the final drawing, and if the Editorial team at Bloomsbury think it appropriate, then it may appear as the frontispiece. Given the danger facing the species in Britain, from ash dieback Chalara fraxinea, we thought it particularly appropriate that the species be given this prominence in the book.

The authors are very grateful for the support and permissions granted by the Trustees of the Baunton Trust, and to Katherine Owen for submitting the tree as the candidate.

Hunting for a venerable ash tree – results

February 22, 2013

Gabriel Hemery

In December we announced that we were hunting for a venerable ash to feature as the frontispiece for The New Sylva read more.

We’ve been overcome by the number of fantastic ash trees submitted by dozens of people across the country. Thank you to everyone who took part.

After reviewing all the photographs and accompanying information submitted we are delighted to announce the name of the person who submitted the chosen tree:

Katherine Owen

Katherine has a dream job as PAWS Development Officer for the Woodland Trust. The tree she submitted is growing in Herefordshire but for now we are not revealing it.

When the authors have visited the tree sometime in the next few weeks, we will add a post here, showing both the tree and the beginnings of Sarah’s drawing.

Thank you again to all those who helped. We are still looking for a jay feather and may yet have other opportunities to get involved in The New Sylva – see help wanted for the latest news.

Hunting for a venerable ash tree – can you help?

December 19, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Hunting for a venerable ash tree – can you help?

December 19, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

The authors are searching for the finest example of a common ash (Fraxinus excelsior) tree to feature in The New Sylva. We hope that our readers can help by submitting their favourite ash trees – one of which will be selected and appear in the book frontispiece.

Following the outbreak of ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea), the chapter on Ash in The New Sylva has been rewritten (see post). Reflecting on the likely impact of the pathogen on ash trees in Britain, we are keen to feature a majestic British ash tree in one of the most prominent positions in the book; the frontispiece. There are many known venerable and notable ash trees in the country, and surely many more lesser-known trees.

Can you propose a candidate ash tree? It could be especially grand or noble, simply have a beautiful and graceful form, have its own fascinating history, or be very ancient. It may be just your favourite ash tree.

Access the ash contact form is now closed

Access to the ash contact form is now closed

The tree selected will be visited by the authors some time in the next three months. It will feature as a full-page drawing made by Sarah Simblet.

Full acknowledgement of any assistance will be provided in The New Sylva.


This submission process is now closed and a result announced. We are grateful to the Sylva Foundation for hosting the online form which enabled people to submit tree candidates. 

Woodland biosecurity – a simple guide

November 11, 2012

Gabriel Hemery

Brushing boots to disinfect and sterilise

Biosecurity – preventing the introduction and spread of harmful organisms – is big news at long last! The arrival of Chalara fraxinea in Britain has brought this important issue to the fore. However, I found it difficult to find simple guidance on the steps we should take when visiting or working in woodlands, or with individual trees in our trees and cities. Many of the record number of readers of this blog over the last week have found it after using searches such as:

“what should I do if I find Chalara fraxinea?”
“how do I clean my boots?”

While we wait for more detailed specific advice to come from scientists and Government officials in relation to Chalara fraxinea it would be prudent to follow the protocols developed to minimise the spread of another pathogen; Phytophthora. So my first recommendation is to visit the Forestry Commission’s webpage on Biosecurity Measures, which includes the advice currently given to all Forestry Commission staff for their routine visits to woodlands in a handy pdf guide.

I have put together the following simple guide on woodland biosecurity.

Biosecurity behaviour

Brushing boots to disinfect and sterilise

Brushing boots to disinfect and sterilise

  • Clean your footwear after visiting a woodland. Wear Wellington boots, as these are easier to clean thoroughly. To do this effectively you must remove first all soil and leaf litter from your soles. You will need water and a stiff hand brush.
  • If you have been to a high risk site apply a detergent to sterilise them, although it is good practice after all visits.
  • Sterilise your tools. Be careful that the chemicals you use do not harm trees (or other wildlife). Read more about sterilising forestry and woodland tools.
  • If you drive into a woodland, even on a road, wash your tyres to remove soil and leaf litter.

Biosecurity personal kit

Spraying boots to sterilise with Propeller disinfectant

Spraying boots to sterilise with Propeller disinfectant, after they have been brushed to remove soil

The most common question I’m asked is what chemical should I use to sterilise or disinfect. The one recommended, or at least adopted, by the Forestry Commission currently is Propellar™. This is available only directly from one supplier (see below) and must be ordered wholesale in 12×1ltr containers as a minimum order. I was amazed when I searched the websites of two of the major forestry and arboricultural supply companies that neither had any disinfection chemicals listed. This is really shocking! Try it yourself. Go to and enter a search string that allows you to search within a certain website (you will need to know the url of the forestry/arb supplier): try “ disinfectant sterilise” [replace the url with the supplier’s]. I’d be happy to be proven wrong but I’ve not found one yet that came up with any goods.

  • Propellar spray to sterilise forestry equipment

    Propellar spray to sterilise forestry equipment

    Propellar™ – chemical to sterilise footwear and equipment (always read the Health & Safety label). The supplier for the disinfectant Propellar™ is:

    Evans Chemical Supplies,
    18B Barncoose Industrial Estate
    TR15 3RX.
    Tel. 01209 213643
    Email: Evans Chemicals

  • handbrush – to remove soil from boots
  • disposable gloves – protection from chemicals used
  • safety goggles – protection from chemicals used
  • water container (e.g. 5L for personal/15L for groups) – to carry water in vehicle for cleaning after visit
  • airtight storage container – to hold brush and chemicals
  • soap and towels – to wash hands
  • bags – to dispose of material
  • storage box – to hold all biosecurity items together

If you have advice born from experience or other comments then I would be pleased to hear from you. Use the Comment box then you can share your experiences with other readers.

Finally, this advice can be followed by woodland owners, arboriculturists, foresters and anyone who accesses woodland regularly. Whether it is practicable or feasible for the average member of the public to adopt these measures is doubtful. Nonetheless, we can lead by example and on high risk sites or those with special high value (e.g. ancient trees or important habitats) particularly, it may be possible to erect signage or equipment to encourage visitors to undertake simple biosecurity measures.

Gabriel Hemery

Further Information

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