Safety / Diligence / Beech

During the worst of storm Eunice a magnificent veteran Beech succumbed to the savage gusts, sending it crashing down onto the bank from which it grew.

The whitest part is what’s left after the fungus has had it’s feed. So brittle it can be crushed by hand!

The root plate and base of the trunk were riddled with Ganoderma (a type of fungus that feasts on healthy heartwood) which compromised it’s structural integrity. Had it been inspected by a professional surveyor a few years ago, (considered good, routine maintenance for mature trees near highways and public spaces) the infection would have been detected, and the tree could have been heavily reduced, and preserved for many years to come, providing important habitat for the local ecosystem.

Can you see the ‘widow makers’ hanging above the lane?

When the old boy failed, the crown completely blocked a (luckily) quiet lane in Chillington, and the only casualties were a BT cable and telegraph pole. A council approved contractor attended in the afternoon to clear the road, and Openreach made a temporary fix to get local residents back online.

Although the road was cleared, locals soon raised concerns to the Parish Council about how the trunk had been left perched, precariously on the side of the steep bank. when challenged by the PC, the contractor’s response was “we were only there to clear the road”

The PC Clerk tracked down the owner of the tree, and recommended they contact Skywalkers DTS asap to inspect the site, which Jack did within 20 minutes of the call.

The whole area was a disaster waiting to happen. The crown had smashed other, smaller trees on both sides of the lane, leaving many hanging branches (widow makers) above the lane. And the trunk. That enormous trunk, was only being prevented from sliding straight down the bank, into the lane, by a small Ash (infected with Dieback) that the Beech had crushed when it fell. A road closure was immediately ordered, and Jack made a plan to make the lane safe again.

At 07:00 the following morning, Jordan from Davis Building arrived with his 25m rotary tele-handler. after a thorough risk assessment and method statement was agreed by the whole team, we set about making the lane safe again.

The first section, 1.5t

Sections of the trunk were carefully cut away whilst being supported by the winch on the machine. Once separated from the rest of the trunk, the sections were lifted over the bank and into the landowner’s field behind.

Topher guiding 2.8t into the field

Piece by piece, the whole trunk was placed safely out of harms way.

Once the main trunk was cleared from the bank, the team set about removing the dangerous, damaged Ash trees that were full of Beech brash.

Spinney preparing the next section for lifting

The rotary tele-handler tells the operator the precise weight of each load it’s lifts. The total for all the sections of the main trunk? 12.6 tonnes!

With the trunk shifted to safety and the other hazards made safe, our job was complete, and the lane was reopened. Many thanks to Davis Building (SW) Ltd for providing the rotary tele-handler at less than 12hrs notice, it would have been a very different job, (and considerably longer road closure) without you.

Ashes to ash

Now that Ash Dieback has a full chokehold on the population, we are, unfortunately, seeing more and more Ash removal projects coming our way.

Spinny diligently keeping the road clear of brash.

These two Ash stools in South Pool, Kingsbridge had been shedding twigs and smaller branches for quite a while. As the crowns overhung a studio roof and public highway (albeit a very quiet one!) re-coppicing was the only option. So they were carefully dismantled in a short day using the CMC-22.

As they were located in a conservation area, SHDC were given a notification of intended tree work, to which they had no objection. Even if they hadn’t been so heavily infected with Dieback, we still would have used the machine to access them, as climbing them would have been far too precarious due to the very old and hollow stools. This also meant the road was closed for the shortest amount of time possible.

The client was left with a considerable pile of logs, ready for splitting, stacking and seasoning for next winter. The remaining brash was stacked neatly as a habitat for pile to support the local ecosystem.

Catching Ash Dieback early, may mean using a machine like the CMC-22 may not be necessary. If you have an Ash or Ashes you think may be infected (more likely than not) we can come and inspect it for you, free of charge, with no obligation.

Ellen Ripley: “I say we take off and nuke the entire site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.” (Aliens, 1986)

Yes, Sigourney Weaver’s character was talking about the Xenomorph, but she could have just as easily been talking another highly dangerous, acid-dripping monster… The Leyland Cypress, aka Leylandii.

Why we still plant these hideous hybrids is beyond me. If you need a fast growing, evergreen hedge, consider one of the Laurels, or Griselinias. Both can be can cut back hard when required, so they can always be kept to the dimensions required. Leyland Cypress will quickly outgrown your requirements, but cutting it back past green growth on the sides, will stay brown forever. Over time, it will also change the pH of the surrounding soil, meaning only acidic, dry soil loving plants will grow successfully nearby.

If multi stemmed hedging plants are left to their own devices, watch out! They soon become enormous. Like a black hole, they will swallow vast amounts of light and space. They also get too heavy for themselves, and drop branches readily. Not a huge issue at the bottom of your garden, if that’s your thing. However, looming dangerously over a very busy road and footpath? Complete removal – it’s the only way to be sure.

Thankfully, unlike the Xenomorphs from the Alien films, they are unable to reproduce successfully without human interaction. They’re normally sterile so have to be grown from cuttings. They also won’t regrow from a stump. Stumps can be left to rot out, but this can take many years, and Stokenham Parish have plans to turf the whole area, so for these huge stumps we brought the big gun out. The REALLY big gun!

As usual, nothing has gone to waste. The wood chip will be used by a local farmer, and local residents will be kept warm for a few winters by the logs.

Who you gonna call?

Skywalkers! and that’s exactly what Landmarc did, when they needed assistance with some technical tree works.


Landmarc are a prestigious environmental engineering company based near Totnes, who provide water and landscape solutions for clients nationwide. Skywalkers DTS were honoured to be asked to provide assistance on several local projects recently. There’s isn’t a lot they can’t deal with, using their vast array of machinery and highly skilled operators, but sometimes, a chainsaw in an experienced pair of hands is called for.

Carefully dismantling a large Sycamore that had outgrown it’s surroundings, and was overshadowing an Oak that really needed some extra space and light.
There’s usually several ways to ‘skin a cat’, and Marcus introduced us to a whole new way of shifting brash, when a tired old Leyland Cypress hedge had to be removed.

At Skywalkers we always treat tree removal as an absolute last resort. Everything we removed for Landmarc on these projects was for very good reason. Removing non-native species in favour of replanting natively, or Ash trees that were becoming dangerous due to Dieback infection and their location. Throughout the projects, far more is being replanted than we removed.

Removals, pruning, hedge reshaping, you name it, we did it.
It’s all in the preparation. It was truly fascinating to watch a filthy bog get transformed into an enormous lake.
There’s pond liner, and then there’s lake liner – 1.2t per roll.

Hymenoscyphus fraxineus / Chalara fraxinea / ASH DIEBACK

Dutch Elm Disease for the 21st century. Like it or not, it’s going nowhere. Well, actually, it’s going everywhere, including the South Hams.

Left: Healthy Ash, Centre: Javier dismantling an infected Ash.

There is no cure or treatment for the disease and over time infected trees will weaken, causing branches to fall and trees to eventually collapse and die. Infection can lead to the death of young trees in just two to three years and of mature trees within 3 to 5 years. This presents a significant health and safety risk, especially alongside roads, public rights of way and woodland areas used by the public for recreation activities. (source:

Dieback showing in twigs at the top of the crown.

Symptoms of ash dieback include;

  • On leaves: Black blotches appear, often at the leaf base and midrib. Affected leaves wilt
  • On stems: Small lens-shaped lesions or necrotic spots appear on the bark of stems and branches and enlarge to form perennial cankers. The infection may girdle the stem and kill it in a single season. If the bark is peeled, the wood underneath has a brownish to grey discolouration. This discolouration extends beyond the bark necrosis
  • On the whole tree: Affected trees show extensive dieback of shoots, twigs and branches. Trees often have prolific epicormic shoots (shoots produced from previously dormant buds below the bark of the trunk or branches) (source:
Signs of dieback on stems.

Beech Maintenance.

Beech maintenance is best carried out during late Autumn, Winter, or once the tree has dropped it’s leaves. At this time, the majority of the tree’s nutrients have moved down into it’s roots, so when material is removed, less nutrients are lost.

If your Beech is in a small garden, close to overhead cables or next to a road or footpath, it’s a good idea to keep it’s size in check. This is done by carefully, and sympathetically reducing & thinning the crown at regular intervals.

Only a small amount should be removed at any one time, and this should be done no more frequently than 3 year intervals, to minimise stress to the tree. Before any thinning or reducing can be done, the whole tree should be checked for rubbing branches, and corrections made accordingly. The amount of rubbing branches removed, will dictate how much more can be removed during the thinning and/or reducing of the remaining crown.

Rubbing branches are a very common issue with Beeches. If left unattended, one of the branches will usually ‘win’, and one will ‘lose’, leading to a branch or limb failing, and ultimately falling. In a woodland this rarely causes an issue, and is part of the natural life cycle of the Beech. If however, there is a greenhouse or a footpath below, damage or injury could occur.

Once your Beech has dropped its leaves, take the opportunity to have a good look at the crown’s structure.

You know it’s going to be tricky if a farmer calls…

There isn’t much a farmer can’t fix with baler twine, and there aren’t many trees that can’t be dealt with using a rope and a tractor. So when we were called to a farm near Kingsbridge, to deal with a mature Ash with Dieback, we knew it was going to be a challenge.

Having already had some large roots severed, and with the infestation of Dieback, climbing and dismantling was out of the question. The only specifications were to avoid damage to the barn to the south, and the static caravan to the east, so the tree was headed north! Of course, no tree job on a farm would be complete without a rope and tractor, so for ‘belt & braces’ they were used to give a little tug on the right direction.

As usual, everything went according to plan.