Thursday, 24 August 2017

Farewell Waterville Ash

Ash tree
Waterville Ash Tree.
How we'll all miss it when it's gone.

UPDATE Tuesday 1st May 2018

The end. The last of the ash tree was carefully and skilfully removed by the city council contractors today. Just look at the girth of that trunk. A young oak tree has been planted next to it which will watch over the people of Waterville for centuries to come.

Felling of the Waterville ash

Felling of the Waterville ash

UPDATE Friday 1st December 2017

I appeared live on BBC Radio Cambs at the foot of the tree (at 7am!) to talk about why trees like the Waterville Ash are so important for Peterborough.

UPDATE Wednesday 11th October 2017

Some wonderful news and some sad news.

Let's deal with the sad news first. The branches have now been removed from the tree and it now looks like this. The gloomy sky says it all.

Ash tree with branches removed
It's very hard to look at this without feeling emotional.
And now for the wonderful news.

Peterborough Green Party Chairman Roger Proudfoot's photograph has won the Peterborough Environment City Trust's (PECT) 'iconic trees' photography competition. Roger's wonderful photograph of the tree in all its magnificence will be framed and placed somewhere for the public to enjoy for years to come.

Award-winning photo of the ash tree by Roger Proudfoot
Award-winning photo by Roger Proudfoot

UPDATE Monday 9th October 2017

The tree will be felled today. The city council and the parish council acknowledge how much this iconic tree means to local people. After 4:30pm today (NO EARLIER) residents are welcome to visit the site to collect a piece of felled wood as a memento of this historic tree. Only the crown (the branches) will be removed. The trunk will be left as a monolith while the parish council decides what to do with is after consultation with local residents.

I nipped down there earlier and collected a piece of a branch that was taken down today.

Slice of ash tree branch
I counted roughly 110 rings.

Ash tree being felled
If the branch is 110 years old the whole tree must be at least 300 years old.

Ash tree logs
Residents are welcome to visit the site after 4:30pm daily and take a piece of wood away as a souvenir. 

It's something of an icon in Orton Waterville. So we were all really sad to be told that our beautiful, cherished ash tree, that is somewhere in the region of 300-650 years old, is due to be felled. Not only is the tree old, it has become diseased, and its close proximity to traffic on the corner of Oundle Road and Cherry Orton Road means it cannot be left to stand where it poses a risk to human life.

Everyone who lives in or passes through Orton Waterville will be familiar with this tree. Residents born here have known it all their lives, as did generations before them. It's possible the tree was here when Henry VIII was a lad.

The fungus that has destroyed the ash is plain for all to see.

Having listened very carefully to the opinion of Peterborough City Council's Tree Officer we understand that the tree is now in its last days and that nothing can be done to reverse its decline. Rotten branches could fall at any time, while the fungus at the tree's roots has caused enormous damage to its structure.

On Wednesday 23rd August 2017, a group of Peterborough Green Party members, parish councillors and local residents gathered to say farewell to this mighty ash tree.

Farewell Waterville Ash
Posted by Julie Howell on Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Like many of you, while we accept that the tree will be taken down, we are concerned that the wood is used in a way that benefits the local community and we also hope that a suitable, mature tree is planted in its place.

If you would like to add your voice to ours, let the city council know what you would like to happen to the wood (note that ash isn't suitable for outdoor furniture) by contacting the council at or call 01733 425 425.

Video transcript: Julie Howell: We're at the site of a beautiful tree in Orton Waterville in Peterborough with members of Peterborough Green Party and also other parish councillors and friends who love this tree. The reason we’re here is to support the Woodland Trust which has a fundraising initiative called Invite a Tree to Tea and it was very obvious to us which tree to choose because this beautiful ash tree in Orton Waterville is much loved and sadly it’s come to the end of its life. So we gather here today to celebrate it. We accept that it has to go but it’s a good opportunity to talk about the tree. If I just give you a glimpse of the tree you'll see it’s an absolute beauty. As you can see there are birds up in the tree. As you can also see it’s near a very busy main road which is one of the reasons why it’s deemed a problem now that it’s in trouble. It’s one of those things, isn’t it… it wouldn’t be the cultural icon that it is if it was in the middle of nowhere but because it’s by a road it poses dangers now that it’s in trouble. Local people were meant to be alerted to the problem by this tiny little sign that no one could read so now this new sign has been put up to warn everyone that the tree’s removal is imminent. I’m going to have a chat with a few people about what’s happening with the tree and what it means to them. Peterborough has ambitions to be an ‘environmental city’ and the Peterborough Environmental City Trust (PECT) has planted a ‘Forest of Peterborough’ and is just about to plant its 100,000th tree in Peterborough and is asking for photos of iconic trees. What a shame this is one that is about to go. Local residents I’ve spoken to are concerned that it’s replaced with something just as iconic and beautiful. So now it’s come to the end of its life I’d like to talk to a couple of local residents about how they feel about the tree. The first person I’ll speak to is Neil Mitchell and Neil is a local historian in Peterborough. Neil, what do you know about this tree?

Neil Mitchell: It’s been here ever since I was a small boy coming to visit my relations in the village. It is an iconic tree. I’m sorry to hear that it’s going to come down due to diseases. It saddens me.

Julie Howell: Barry Warne is a local to the area as well. What are your thoughts about the loss of this great tree?

Barry Warne: It’s very sad. I often get a bus into town from the stop just up there and I would stand there admiring it. It’s beautiful the way it covers the road and seeing the snow and frost on it. It just looks marvellous. I’ve got an old friend who cycles to The Windmill (pub) every day up the hill and he’s noticed when they’ve made changes to it and lopped branches off it and such like and it’s a conversation piece in The Windmill. A lot of people do care about it around here.

Julie Howell: Notice how busy the road is. I think thousands and thousands of people must see this tree every day and I would imagine that when it’s lost people are going to notice. People may think oh it’s just a tree, just replace it, but when this is gone – as you can see it stretches right over the road – people are going to miss it. I’m going to turn now to Roger Proudfoot of Peterborough Green Party and also a parish councillor here. I know Roger has been speaking to the tree officer at the city council about why the tree has to go. What do you know, Roger?

Roger Proudfoot: Basically, it’s quite a sick tree. It’s got this fungi at the bottom of the tree that’s eating into the main buttress roots which is weakening the overall structure of the tree. Potentially in the next winds or gales there is a concern that the tree could come down. Obviously we’re on a busy junction, you can hear the vehicles going past. Obviously there are pedestrians going to and fro about their business. It’s a very sad occasion because we estimate the tree is about 20 feet in girth. We’ll try and measure it in a moment to get a better idea, which could put it anywhere between 300-500 years old. And when you think about the history that this tree has overseen it could even go back to Tudor times and Henry VIII. It’s quite amazing really. That’s why we’re here today, to acknowledge the contribution the tree has made to the wellbeing of all the residents who have lived here long before we all came around and we should note its passing. It’s very unfortunate. We’ve spoken to the tree specialist at the city council and he’s never seen as sick a tree as this with this particular fungus in all his experience. He’s as passionate about trees as we are and he’s very sad to see it go too. But the risk to the public outweighs the tree being left. If it was in a field or woodland it would probably last maybe 50-100 years longer.  But it is a sick tree, you can see some of the branches that have died. There could be other factors as well. It is a tree that’s coming to the end of its natural life. Sadly, even the mighty ash tree and oak trees do come to the end of their lives at a certain point.

Julie Howell: I got an email from a resident today saying that they hope the council will do something useful with the wood because this is a lot of wood that’s coming down. Maybe build something here that’s of use to local people here and also that they’ll plant something appropriate and not saplings.

Roger Proudfoot: There isn’t a plan at the moment so it’s something for discussion and if anybody’s got any views about that they should let the parish council and the city council know. There are contact details on the tree removal sign. Perhaps a more mature oak or another ash tree. I know that ash trees can be affected by ‘die back’ and young ash trees are particularly vulnerable so with this fungus thing here it may not be appropriate to plant another ash here. An older oak tree rather than a sapling might be something more appropriate. But let’s hear what the people would like to see.

Fiona Radic: If you wanted to you could cut straight across that tree and get a table top or twenty out of it. Also, with some timbers if you’ve got an infection it actually adds to the appeal of the wood for people who make ornamental things out of wood. It’s a great pity it’s an ash because ashes are getting ash die back so ashes are really important. If you can keep an ash alive that’s a good thing.

Julie Howell: What’s the measurement? 5.2 metres in girth! So how old is that, Roger? Can we do a calculation from that?

Roger Proudfoot: The average for a tree apparently, the growth rate throughout its life, bearing in mind a tree grows fairly fast when it’s young and then slows down when it’s older, is about 2.5cms per year so this tree is at least 208 years old (depending on the growing conditions). There has been some work done to try and estimate the age of trees and for an ash, if it’s a good site with shelter, which this is, a five metre tree would be up to about 300 years old. If we could class this as a woodland boundary it could be as much as 650 years old. Certainly over 300 years and possibly more. There’s obviously a lot of value in the wood. It’s obviously very expensive to take down. And it is going to be very hard to cut. It’s going to have to be cut in chunks, particularly when you get down to the main trunk. What we’re hoping is that some of the wood can be used to put to good purpose. Ash isn’t a very good outdoor wood but it’s one of the best woods for crafting and maybe some of the local crafters may be able to make something with the wood. That’s something we’re currently discussing with the city council as to whether or not some of the wood can be put to good use to pay tribute to the tree.

Julie Howell: To finish off with some moments of reflection I thought it would be quite nice if we thanked the tree and spent a few moments thinking about what the tree has meant to Orton Waterville. I’m going to ask Peterborough resident Ruth Fiddy to read out a poem in a moment that’s called The Old Ash Tree by a lady called Susanna Moodie, who was born in the UK then emigrated to Canada. It’s interesting to note that Susanna Moodie was born in 1805 and the tree was already here then! That’s how old this tree is. She died in 1883 but the tree has kept on going, which is quite something to contemplate. The Old Ash Tree by Susanna Moodie.  


  1. Did the council consider taking a cutting, or grafting the tree so it could be perpetuated in some way?

    No. Thought not. Much easier to cut it down and replace it with a smaller, non indigenous species.

    1. Ah, ye of little faith Mrs A. :-D Initially, we were told that the city council planned only to chip the wood. However, once we were able to demonstrate the strength of feeling about the tree, the council agreed that the wood would be used in a way that would commemorate the tree and in consultation with local residents. The taking of cuttings is also being considered. Local residents have also been invited to keep a piece of the tree if they wish to do so. Regarding re-planting, as we fear an ash wouldn't succeed at the site, a mature oak is to be planted there and four or five other trees nearby to mark the special nature of the tree that has been lost. There are also ideas brewing to place an information board at the spot to commemorate this great tree. We would never stand for the planting of non-indigenous species here (there are four Greens on the parish council who'd have none of that!).