End of Ash

A small grove massacred to the last ash,
An oak with heart-rot, give away the show:
This great society is going to smash:
They cannot fool us with how fast they go,
How much they cost each other and the gods.
A culture is no better than its woods.

W H Auden 1952 (Bucolics, part II, “Woods”)

Most extinctions go unnoticed. But last night the moon lit up the dead branches of the ash trees that overlook my studio here in West Wales creating an eerie scene. It’s a landscape that is becoming familiar all over Britain and a stark reminder of the environmental crisis we are living through. You don’t have to go to the Arctic to see environmental collapse. It’s here on our doorsteps, in our lanes and hedgerows. And it’s happening now.

Chalara, or ‘Ash Dieback’, as it’s commonly referred to, is an epidemic that could see the death of up to 95% of the UK’s ash trees. This tragedy ravaging the countryside is taking place in the shadow of the global COVID-19 pandemic, so it is hardly surprising that it is happening largely unnoticed. Species are quietly heading towards extinction while politicians agonize over the economy and getting things ‘back to normal’. But it is ‘business as normal’ that is causing the problems in the first place. Lyme, Ebola, AIDS and now COVID-19 all jumped into human populations as a consequence of habitat destruction and collapsing ecosystems.

Mike Perry June 2020

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