We can all do our bit to contain the impact of ash dieback disease
Three skills in particular are often associated with farmer's wives: cooking, needlework and gardening. Nobody in our house goes hungry (even if the fire alarm often goes off when I cook steak); nor am I totally unskilled with a sewing machine.
But when it comes to the garden, my dear husband suggests that, instead of green fingers, I have gramoxone paws.
Having said that, the one thing I can do is grow trees from seed. I have been growing horse chestnuts from conkers for many years, but precipitated by the arrival of the deadly dieback disease Chalara fraxinea, have now switched my attention to ash.
This is giving me a greater sense of satisfaction. Perhaps it's that we Irish have a deep-seated love of the ash. Even in a perfectly manicured hedge, farmers will often let an ash tree grow on. Of course, this could be a reflection of just how readily the ash grows, but while it doesn't have the grandeur of the oak, perhaps the durability and flexibility of ash epitomises more than any other tree the soul of rural and traditional Ireland.
Hurleys are the best known use of ash, but as can still be witnessed in any mart in the country, the ash plant is the first choice for driving cattle. Going back over the years, the cattle drover had a great eye for spotting a suitable ash plant as they travelled the highways and byways. However, he would wait until the time was right. It wasn't just a case of going out and pulling any old plant; they were accorded time and respect. Even today, real stockmen would nearly be more protective of their ash plant that they would be of their missus.
Ash dieback or Chalara fraxinea was first noted in Poland in the early 1990s and has spread rapidly throughout Europe. In Denmark, it is estimated that there may only be 200 ash trees left, just enough to cover a football pitch.
Ireland's first outbreak, in Leitrim, was recorded just over a year ago and 100 cases have since been confirmed in counties as far apart as Cavan, Galway, Waterford and Longford. Given its ability to travel 25km per year and the fact that it takes up to three years to show signs, it's possible – if not probable – that the disease has spread across most of Ireland.
The Department of Agriculture's approach is to try and contain the disease so all infected plantations are being destroyed. However, as Jim Lawlor of the Native Woodland Trust points out, some trees which are resistant to the disease may also be lost in this process.