When my eldest son worked in Scotland, we used to go and visit him regularly.

It was great to see a lot of different farming environments and it really opened my eyes to practices elsewhere.

Where he worked in Scotland, there were large fields with very few hedges and even less trees. Lots of fields had over 100ac, with not a tree in sight. It made me look at my own environment in a completely different light.

At home, we have lots of big thick hedges and some massive trees. Most of my fields are only a couple of acres in size, with the largest field that I own only 12ac.

When my father bought most of the land that I now own, it was in small fields of about an acre. It is not that long ago that he was paid a grant to pull out hedges. It is very ironic that I have been paid for replanting a lot of hedges since I took over the farm. I often wonder what kind of forward planning took place.

It made me look at my own environment in a completely different light

I cannot really blame my father. He was following advice being given to him and (of course) there was the financial incentive. I suppose the thinking was that bigger fields would suit larger tractors and possibly result in more productive land.

However, my father did have some foresight and he wasn’t just interested in pulling out the hedges and lifting the grant money. He left lots of big trees scattered through the farm.

During the hot summer days, these trees provide protection for the cattle from the sun and on the wet days, they provide lots of shelter from the rain. Growing up, my sisters and I would enjoy climbing these trees to see who could climb the highest.

Most of these trees are a mixture of ash, horse chestnut or beech. In my lifetime, we have lost some of the beech and horse chestnut to storm damage. I was always sad to see these big trees coming down and I always tried to count the rings to see what age they were.

Hit hard

The ash trees survived most of the storms, but in recent years, ash dieback has started to hit them hard.

I first noticed it about five or six years ago, but I didn’t really take it seriously. Some trees died and fell, while others seemed to partially die and then recover. Then there were other trees not affected.

Over the last year or so, things have changed massively. Nearly all the ash trees (90%) are affected and most really badly. Even the trees that had recovered from earlier infections seem to have been hit again with devastating impact.

When I look around my farm and other farms, it is clear this disease is going to drastically change the look of the countryside. In this part of the country, the road hedges are full of dead ash trees. I fear this is going to be a massive problem in the next couple of years. These trees are going to fall and block roads and potentially cause a lot of accidents.

In this part of the country, the road hedges are full of dead ash trees

If you look up guidance from the Department for Infrastructure, it states that the landowner is responsible for removing any trees likely to cause a danger to road users.

But what can we do? It is not easy (or cheap) to start felling trees along the roadside. There are lots of issues with traffic, and phone wires, not to mention that very few of us are licensed to fell trees.

Will our insurance policies cover us to fell these trees, or if they fall and cause an accident? Probably not.

This is a major issue and someone needs to take the lead and help farmers and landowners before it is too late. This is too big a problem for us to tackle on our own.

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