A forester’s story of Ash, the tree and the timber, as the most important species in our native woodland canopy.
Recognised by foresters throughout Europe as the Venus of the Woods but threatened with a disease that might erase it from our landscape, Ash is holding it’s own… for now.
In this video Tom, our MD and chartered forest manager at English Woodlands Forestry, gives us the background on Ash trees and the timber we’re so fond of.
Ash in the British Landscape
As a tree the Ash is a very important species in British woodlands. It’s the third most popular species in the UK and is really a significant component of our native woodlands. In the forest, It has a very tall, slender look, which is why foresters know it as the ‘Venus of the Woods’.
Of the 43 known species of Ash and 3 , part of the Olive family or Olecea, are native to Europe. Their geographic range goes right to the east to the river Volga to the West Coast. of Ireland, and right up to Trondheim, in Norway. Other variants of the species in North America often make it to Europe as imported timber.
Back in the 17th century, famous silviculturalist called John Evelyn raised the trees so high that he insisted that at least a third of woods when they’re planted are Ash, and William Cobbett, politicking farmer and companion is in the 19th Century insisted there wasn’t a more important tree in our forest than the Ash.
A civilisation built on Ash timber
It’s importance and value of Ash as a timber is down to it’s incredible versatility and the huge variety of uses it can be put to. The usefulness of Ash to humanity has been recorded, right from the start of civilization. Partly it’s strength, partly it’s workability has meant it made early wheels and weapons, was used for tools and musical instruments and as wood for home building and heating.
Are we taking the Venus of the Woods for granted?
The evolution of the Ash dieback disease (Chalara Fraxinea) which is affecting many trees through Europe has meant that sadly, many trees are now having to be cut for their timber before reaching maturity and full lifepsan.
Whilst there’s some benefit in that more Ash wood may become available for a time, if the natural regeneration, planting and woodland management isn’t maintained the disease could cause irreparable harm to the biodiversity and natural balance and the Ash could be erased from our woodlands for good.
This is the sort of thing that keeps us foresters and wood suppliers awake at night.
In our experience woodworkers are in the habit of thinking about Ash as a common tree, therefore not a particularly rare, unusual or extraordinary timber.
Perhaps we are taking our native Ash for granted.
What’s the current situation with English Ash logs?
There’s still the opportunity to purchase logs and to cut, mill and dry them in boules for furniture and joinery stocks but there’s a very real risk that sourcing will become a challenge in the future.
We hope that the Venus of the Woods will always be here for you and we’ll work with our forestry companies and foresters all over the UK to make sure that’s the case for as long as possible, but if you’ve never looked closely at Ash as a working wood, maybe it’s time.
Before you buy your next batch of Oak, design your next interior or make those cutting lists for your next range of furniture take a moment and switch species. Or get a little board added to your next delivery so you can have a play.
Granted, Ash wood is not for everyone, but for creative makers and interior designers this stuff is right up your street.
And don’t even get us started on mechanical strength and the steam bending possibilities 🙂
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