heathlandAuthor, journalist and TV presenter Rob Penn tells Grown in Britain what makes British woodlands so important

I am writing this at my new desk. Andy Dix, a local furniture maker, made it from an ash tree felled near my home in the Black Mountains, South Wales. It is both exquisite and functional. It would have been easier to go to IKEA, or buy a new desk on-line but I felt the need to make a point: the pleasure we take from things made from natural materials is an extension of the pleasure we take from nature itself. In a generation, we seem to have forgotten this.

I’m particularly interested in the European ash (Fraxinus excelsior). It is arguably the tree with which man has been most intimate in temperate Europe over the course of human history and it is now under serious threat. Ash has been used for wagons, ploughs and, of fundamental importance from the Iron Age until the middle of the 20thcentury, the rims of wooden wheels. The unique combination of vigorous strength, durability and elasticity meant ash was used to make tool handles, ladders, hay rakes, hop-poles, hockey sticks, hurley sticks, walking sticks, tennis rackets, looms, croquet mallets, crutches, coracles, cricket stumps, oars, cups, spars, paddles, skis, sledges, cart shafts, the best blocks for pullies, tent pegs, snooker cues, musical instruments, car bodies and even the wings of airplanes. This list is far from comprehensive, and ash is just one of our native tree species. Yet in just half a century, we have almost entirely forgotten how to use ash timber. Mention ash today and the majority of people think only of firewood.

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