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Oldest Ash


In his excellent Heritage Trees Wales (published by Welsh publishers Graffeg, and available via Amazon currently at £15.20), Archie Miles writes ‘Most visitors (to the Abbey) will saunter through this romantic ruin, a monument safely in the hands of CADW, with little inkling that there is a superb green monument only 300 yards away to the east, along a public footpath. A stupendous ash tree towering above an old hedgerow has grown to a remarkable size for a species not usually noted for its great longevity.’ With a girth of some 24-25 feet, over 7 metres, it is probably the largest maiden ash tree in Wales.

We can be a bit picky about this claim in that tree is possibly two trees fused together. We might challenge the notion that it is the Talley Abbey Ash, in that is barely visible from the Abbey, would appear to have no connection with the Abbey, being only ?200-250 years old, the exact age will only be determined when the tree does eventually succumb to age or disease. There may be older ash trees in Wales. Pollarding refreshes trees but inevitably reduces their final size, and so there may be even older ashes in the country.

A current threat to the Talley Ash is ash die back, chalara fraxinea, which many readers will know is sweeping the ash population of the UK. This causes leaf loss and crown die back and while not itself fatal makes the affected tree susceptible to other forces which will. It would be ironic if this ‘remarkable survivor’ were to end its days destroyed by an effectively invisible foreign invader. The threat of ash die back combined with her interest in the tree recently led to Hilary Green making a radio programme for BBC Wales. She assumed that the tree would mean a great deal to the Talley community, and perhaps after this attention it will mean more, but what emerged was that many local people were either completely unaware of the tree, or innocent of its significance. In a landscape in which there are many fine trees it is of course almost inevitable that it will seem one of many rather than unique. One distinguished resident, whose identity will of course be concealed by the Data Protection Act!, did even describe it as a heap of sticks! This elderly heap is also a remarkable haven for a wide variety of creatures, large and small. It was good that a party of children from Talley School were brought to see the tree and gain some awareness of its significance. As the children stood there close to the busy narrow B4362 one obvious reason for ignorance became clear – the tree is not in the most pedestrian friendly place! It is good that the gate has been replaced beneath the tree – perhaps the moment has come for a discreet sign to point visitors and local residents to our oldest resident.