Surrounding our house and gites we have about 16 acres of land – meadow, woodland, fields etc. Very pastoral it is too.
We don’t especially want ‘land’ – although I enjoy striding around the fields in a ‘landowner’ kind of way - but it is useful to have it because it stops some errant maire from giving planning permission to his first cousin to build 20 new bungalows five metres from our house.
But it turns out that our borders are less protected than we thought.
One of our borders has a stream running along it, with a field the other side. There are a lot of trees planted alongside the ditch, some on our side of the border and some on the neighbours side. Several of these trees are old dead oak trees – there is some kind of capricorn beetle that kills old oak trees that has attacked many of them.
The capricorn takes quite a few years to kill a tree, slowly but unstoppably eating tunnels at least as thick as your thumb through the tree. These are not the same as the capricorns you get in the attic of a French house!
This week the farmer who owns the adjacent field decided to sort out the old dead trees, and called in the local woodman to sort out the ‘five old oak trees’. Most of these were long dead and covered with ivy. I thought the dead tress had a certain artistic beauty, but I can understand that he didn’t want great lumps of dead branch falling in among the growing sunflowers each year.
Unfortunately there was insufficient communication between the two of them, and I came home today to find that a magnificent oak, that didn’t look at all unwell and was clearly on our side of the border, had been felled.
This was one of those oak trees like you see photos of in pastoral country magazines, or as backdrop in a televised Jane Austen novel. In the suburbs you’d slap a preservation order on it, and re-name your street ‘old oak avenue’.
Mrs B was already talking to the woodman about his error when I came home from a bike trip and startled both of them by running at top speed across the field in my lycra cycling gear. Of course, getting cross is all very interesting – but doesn’t go very far to replacing a centuries old tree. And in truth I accept that it was a genuine mistake.
The woodman was very apologetic and very pleasant – apparently he hadn’t noticed that he had jumped across a ditch to chop down an ancient healthy tree – and he pointed out that there was at least some evidence that it had started being attacked by the dreaded capricorn, so would have died eventually anyway.
He is going to cut the wood into manageable lengths and bring it around to us for the stove, which should keep us warm next winter. And if I plant an acorn tomorrow morning, the tree should make a good start on growing back in time for global warming to kill it off in about 50 years.