Rebecca Chesney

Rebecca Chesney


The Cherry Weep While the Ash Dieback
Hestercombe Gallery, Somerset 2023
Woodland intervention: 47 ash trees marked with forestry paint.

Hestercombe House and Gardens are located near Taunton, Somerset. When I first visited and explored the site I was struck by how many large ash trees there are in certain parts of the estate and I thought of the impact their loss would have if they succumb to ash dieback.

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It has been estimated that ash dieback will kill up to 80% of ash trees in the UK. Many ash trees have already died or are showing signs of the disease, with only 1-5% showing some tolerance to the disease. So the ash trees of Hestercombe, already showing signs of dieback, will be lucky to survive.
But the landscape at Hestercombe has undergone many changes over time: the timber valuation conducted in 1872 reveals there were nearly 23,000 elm trees on the estate, some 7845 being over 80 ft tall. How different the place must have looked! No elms remain now mainly because of dutch elm disease spreading throughout the UK in 1960s and 1970s.

There are many reasons woodlands have declined throughout Britain: development and farming, pollution, disease and climate change have left woodland cover at only 13% of the total land area in UK.
Trees are vital in maintaining a healthy atmosphere by converting carbon dioxide to oxygen; they support great lists of other creatures so vital to a balanced ecosystem; upland woods can help reduce flooding downstream; and we know trees provide shade in our heating cities. Their worth is far more than any timber value.

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Steeped in folkloric tales and stories trees represent growth, fertility, death and rebirth in many mythologies. The outpouring of grief and shock at the illegal felling of the mighty tree at Sycamore Gap in Northumberland recently shows the depth of feeling runs deep. But shouldn’t we be mourning the loss of each and every tree?

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In spring 2023 I marked 47 ash trees in the woods at Hestercombe with a pink stripe (using forestry non-permanent paint) to show how many trees could be lost in the future to ash dieback.

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I returned in summer 2023 and took rubbings on the trunks of 39 of the 47 marked ash trees (a few were inaccessible due to brambles and nettles and a hornet nest).

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Installation view of 39 rubbings of the ash trees, Hestercombe Gallery 2023.
Forestry non-permanent paint & graphite on newsprint paper.
Each rubbing is 37 cm x 50 cm

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