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A word from the Weald - Clive Agran on a suspicious smell and awkward ash problems

PUBLISHED: 14:21 18 August 2014 | UPDATED: 14:21 18 August 2014

Clive Agran shares the local issues furrowing his brow

A suspicious smell

Ever since I first watched The Beverly Hillbillies, a Sixties TV series about a poor Ozark family who stumble upon oil and become ridiculously rich, I have dreamt of something similar happening to me.

Ludicrously fanciful for the past five decades, it has become a distinct possibility since the recent publication of a report by the British Geological Survey, which refers to vast reserves of shale gas and oil in the Jurassic Weald Basin. That’s where I live!

It was whilst digging a sizeable rock out of the vegetable patch at the bottom of the garden that I caught a strong whiff of something unquestionably malodorous. Could this be the stuff that will massively cut Britain’s energy import bill, heat ten million homes and ensure that I never again have to worry about finding the wherewithal to pay a parking fine?

With my heart fluttering like a wad of £50 notes in a stiff breeze I called my wife, whose sense of smell is even more impressive than her taste in men. “What is it?” I asked. “Oil, gas…?” She looked at me pitifully and remarked, “Close. The septic tank needs emptying.”

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Awkward Ash problems

It’s strange how circumstances alter one’s perspective. For most of my adult life I have endeavoured to rip out those nasty ash saplings that have somehow manage to establish themselves in the most awkward and inhospitable of places. They flourish tight up against houses, in the meanest of cracks on the terrace and generally anywhere they can cause problems and mischief. The chances of ever removing them diminish exponentially as they become more established with each passing year.

But now that the parent trees from whose seed they sprouted are suffering acutely from wretched ash dieback disease, instead of unwelcome intruders, these little fellows offer a ray of hope for an otherwise bleak future devoid of one of our favourite trees.

So many ash trees in this part of East Sussex are suffering that, instead of ripping out their offspring, I’m nurturing them in the hope that they might be more resistant to the horrible spores of the nasty chalara fraxinea fungus than are their forebears.

Thankfully, I’m not alone in this work as, in parallel with my own research, the Forestry Commission are conducting similar tests, albeit on a slightly larger scale. So, on top of my half-a-dozen come their 155,000. I’m confident that between us we’ll find a disease-resistant strain that one day will re-populate our county with healthy ash trees and I can resume pulling up unwanted saplings with an easy conscience.

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Read on

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