Residents in and around Jordon Close will have seen a lot of activity in Newman’s Plantation as contractors have cut back some ash trees.
Two years ago, as the parish’s tree warden I was called to inspect the half acre thin strip of mature woodland, which was left by developers and handed over to Stansted parish council. I found that many of the ash had advanced stages of chalara ash dieback, a fungal disease that weakens and kills the trees and is ravaging our national ash stock. With some of the trees close to houses and the plantation used as a pathway for pedestrians, it was crucial to make them safe.
A professional tree inspector confirmed the presence of the disease and after receiving recommendations the parish went out to competitive tender. The storms Ciara and Dennis along with the lockdown meant work was delayed, but finally this month the contractors got to work cutting down, monolithing and pruning trees, depending on their state of decay and public safety risk. It was not an ideal time to cut as it is better to carry out the work when trees are dormant, but this slow-progressing disease causes weakened limbs to fall off trees and could potentially damage property or harm pedestrians.
Looking at the cuts of wood at Newman’s Plantation, you can see how the fungus has eaten through the heartwood. Trees can survive with heartwood cored out since the sapwood and cambium layers are the parts of the tree, but chalara also attacks the vascular system that keeps the tree alive. At Newman’s there was also evidence that the ash were suffering secondary infections of other fungus species and bacterial cankers.
This small plot of land demonstrates how devastating this disease can be to our native ash stock – and what’s in store for the future.
Moving forward, we now have to look at how to manage this small strip of land now that the upper canopy has been removed in parts of the plot. We need to decide on new tree species that can fill the gaps and benefit the wildlife, without causing new problems. There is a danger that if it is left without further management, it will become an unpleasant scrub land filled with bramble and nettles.