A FEW weeks ago I wrote about the problem of ash dieback which is predicted to lead to the loss of 80 per cent of the ash trees in Britain. I used this picture as illustration, showing how infected trees send out bunches of new stems from dormant buds in a process called epicormic growth.
A couple of readers remarked on the ivy on the tree. ‘Mr Cheerful’ wrote: ‘Look at all the overpowering garbage clinging to the tree. Surprised it is still standing. No wonder fungus finds it easy prey’, while ‘Lester Beedell’ said: ‘The ash in the photo is being strangled by ivy’.
A lot of trees round here have a heavy growth of ivy (Hedera helix ssp helix) including this one next door
and this one at the back of our house, which seems to be in perfect health and even supports a parasitic sycamore.
I consulted the Woodland Trust website which says: ‘Clingy, luscious, misunderstood. Ivy has long been accused of strangling trees, but it doesn’t harm the tree at all, and even supports at least 50 species of wildlife.’ I yield to no one in my mistrust of wildlife charities/political lobbies, but I can’t see any reason why the Woodland Trust would endorse something that is a threat to trees.
Ivy can easily grow to 100ft. It is not parasitic, ie it does not take nourishment from the tree, but uses it for support by means of clinging hairs which do not penetrate the bark. Its root system is separate from the tree and a lot shallower, so there is no competition.
It has two forms: the younger leaves are three or five lobed as in this picture I took yesterday:
Mature stems have leaves without lobes, and this is where the fruits are formed.
The fruits have a high fat content and are an important food source over the winter for birds including thrushes, redwings, blackcaps, wood pigeons and blackbirds. The autumn flowers are invaluable for insects before they hibernate. The growth provides shelter for insects, birds, bats and other small mammals.
The only disadvantage I can find is that if a tree is weakened by disease, the weight of the ivy will make it more readily felled by wind. The Woodland Trust insists that ivy does no harm to a healthy tree.
I hope none of you suffered damage from Storms Dudley and Eunice (what a masterstroke giving them names – it makes them into personal enemies which can be blamed on climate change). Do please leave any interesting experiences or pictures below the line. Here is one I have already been sent from Whichford, Oxfordshire.
Here in Lancashire it was wet and windy but nothing special. Yesterday (the day after the second storm) I took this video of the Ribble. When it is slightly above normal level it develops a curious backward wave as it passes over a rocky bar. As I write it is snowing.
Don’t forget that reader Kathy Nel (‘linuslimmy’) is collating anecdotal evidence about bird and insect numbers, either increases or decreases (or even static). Send your comments and observations to this address: firstname.lastname@example.org. If you leave a comment below the line, we need a geographical location to be able to use it.
Finally, in response to last week’s column about kingfishers, commenter ‘TheRightToArmBears’ shared this delightful story:
The kingfisher is the most magical and beloved of birds.
When the world was new it was inhabited solely by the birds, ruled by the Golden Eagle, who watched from his eyrie on the mountain top. The birds were happy, merry and contented as, twittering, singing and calling to each other, they soared, swooped and flew all the days long until, one day, the King in his eyrie noticed that they didn’t sound so loud as they did in the days before.
He called the Wise Old Owl and asked what had happened, to be told that the foolish birds had allowed the fires to die out and so the birds were huddling together to keep warm. The King called a great meeting of the birds and, fixing them with his eye, berated them for being foolish, and asked what was to be done. The Wise Old Owl said that someone must fly to the sun and bring fire back to the earth. All the birds clamoured their agreement but fell silent when the King asked who would fly to the sun. After a pause, a small brown bird stepped forward and said he would try. The King asked who he was, to be told he was the fisher bird.
Taking as big a twig as he could, the fisher bird set off and the assembly watched him rise out of sight until he vanished. Time passed and the birds grew colder and colder, until one of them noticed a spark of light in the sky – it was the fisher bird returning with fire and the earth was warmed again. All the birds congratulated themselves until the King called for silence: he had noticed that the fisher bird was in a dreadful state. His feathers were all scorched and charred. The King ordered that each bird must give the fisher bird a feather to replace his lost plumage, which all the birds did, except the Wise Old Owl, with the excuse that he had ‘too few’. The King ordered that the Wise Old Owl be punished for his selfishness by only being allowed out at night, and should he be seen abroad in daylight he would be mobbed homeward by all the small birds of the air, which happens to this very day.
The King looked to the fisher bird, now clothed in all the colours of the rainbow, and said: ‘You are now my Kingfisher, with the right to live beside and fish in all the rivers of my kingdom,’ which the Kingfisher’s children do to this day, darting into the water whenever they are reminded of the day their ancestor flew so near to the sun.
That was the story told to me long ago by my mother, and my own children looked with wonder at me when I told it to them at bedtime. ‘Is that true?’ they asked, and of course I told them that I believed it to be so.