Ash is one of the commonest trees in the British Isles – there are nearly as many ash trees as there are people. Perhaps this is why we take them for granted. Poets write of oak, yew, elm, willow, rarely ash. No books have been written about ash trees before. Yet ash is one of the most productive hardwoods in Europe. Its strength and elasticity are qualities our Neolithic ancestors recognised while building their tracks across the marshlands of Somerset. Ash has been used ever since, to build and warm homes, to feed livestock, to cure. Before steel it was used to make ploughs and rakes, wheel rims, boat frames, tent pegs and weapons.
The human population is not alone finding sustenance and shelter in ash: woodpeckers bore nest holes into them, bats breed in veteran trees, insects, lichens, mosses and liverworts thrive on ash bark, as do hares and rabbits in winter. The first noticing of Ash Disease in 2012 brought this under-appreciated tree to our attention. In response, Oliver Rackham has written this first history and ecology of the ash tree, exploring its place in human culture, explaining Ash Disease, and arguing that globalisation is now the single greatest threat to the world's trees and forests. There is no more urgent message for our times. We cannot go on treating trees like commodities to be bought and sold and freely traded around the world.
The late Oliver Rackham OBE FBA was one the outstanding botanical writers of our times. His books include The History of the Countryside, Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape, Ancient Woodland and Woodlands, which was the 100th volume in the Collins New Naturalist series. He was Honorary Professor of Historical Ecology at Cambridge University and was a Fellow of Corpus Christi College for 50 years. He was also an Honorary Member of the British Ecological Society and a Fellow of the British Naturalists' Association.
"an ideal, expert introduction to an iconic tree and its endangered habitat throughout the UK."
– The Times
"A lifetime of research and observation allows him to present the complexity of woodland ecology with a light and affectionate touch."
– Philip Marsden, The Spectator