The Log Blog

Monty’s Done

At the end of 2020 we were asked to look at a Monterey Cypress at Torcross. The tree was an iconic landmark overlooking the whole of Torcross and Slapton Sands.

5 years ago it had been heavily reduced by another firm. The intention was to reduce its windsail, as it was growing rather precariously at the edge of a steep slope, directly above the often busy main road to Dartmouth. In hindsight, the reduction was too much for the tree to cope with, and since then it had been in a steady decline.

If the tree had failed in high winds, it should have fallen across two gardens, but trees are inherently unpredictable, so public safety had to take priority over sentiment. Therefore the very difficult decision was taken to remove the tree.

Using a state-of-the-art narrow access MEWP (cherry picker) and specialist rigging equipment, the behemoth was carefully dismantled.

It was very much a bittersweet project. On one hand, it was immensely satisfying to tackle such a complex task, but on the other, it was a little gut wrenching to be taking down such an iconic, and once beautiful tree. However, public safety was priority one. The extent of the decay within one of the main trunks was quite shocking. Had it have been left for another season, a catastrophic failure would have been highly likely.
Nothing has gone to waste. The wood chip as been used at a local equestrian centre, and the logs will be heating many local homes next winter.

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.

Ash (& Jack) in the Mill Pond.

This week we had the pleasure of working at a beautiful mill near the river Erme. Unfortunately, during the recent high winds, a self-set Ash had let go of the mill pond bank, and fallen straight across the water to the opposite bank.

Not the best bridge…

With the pond drained, we set about carefully dismantling the Ash, leaving only a sprinkling of saw dust, and a neat pile of logs for their stove.

For anything trees, get in touch.

Thank goodness for chainsaw wellies!

It Wasn’t Really Beech Weather…

The recent storms have caused chaos and countless damage, and unfortunately many trees have been lost.

Bricklehampton Hall lost a very old veteran Beech, that was very close to the main entrance. Luckily, the only damage was to the lawn. But as it also fell across a car park, and narrowly missed a wall, things could have been very much worse.

Most days the car park is full.

Clearing up the damage, and dismantling the remaining trunks was a bittersweet experience for me. I grew up just around the corner, and fondly remember playing in its shadow on the long, hot summer days.

Clearing up the fallen Beech

The rot throughout the tree was so extensive, not only in the lower main union, but also much higher in one of the other trunks, it’s a small wonder that had stood for as long as it did.

Rot in a high limb
This part withstood the whole storm somehow
The rot and spalting in the main union

The silver lining to this stormy cloud is that some of the lower wood is spalted, and may make an excellent bowl or two, in the hands of a skilled wood turner.

Hopefully some of the wood may end up in the hands of a craftsman

A little tidy up in Little Comberton.

20 years unmaintained.
Some recent work we carried out for Little Comberton parish council. Manor Lane had been left unmaintained for over 20 years. As well as some very overgrown Hazel clumps, there were some dangerous and rotten Damsons that were essentially, holding each other up.

The church is now visible when approaching from the east, and the bank is now ready for the old footpath to be reinstated. We will be back in the Autumn to plant Hawthorn and Dog Rose to fill in the gaps in the hedge. All works were carried out under the strict supervision of the parish council and Wychavon’s tree officer.

There’s the church!
All ready for the old footpath to be reinstated.

The Wind in the, Poplars?

Carrant Brook, Mitton.

Poplars and Willows are very popular trees to plant near brooks and other natural drains that can easily flood. Mainly due to their natural thirst for water, and the fact they are a fast growing species

And there in lies the problem…

Fast growing species such as Willow and Poplar, are also inherently weak structured trees when compared to slower growing broad leaf species such as Oak or Elm. Without regular, professional maintenance they can soon dominate the sky, blocking out views and light. But more importantly, they can become ‘too heavy for their own good’. Enter the cold weather and strong winds, and you could soon be facing more than a leaf covered lawn.Pollarding is a common way to keep These trees in check. However, it must be done with correct cutting techniques and at a suitable frequency for the size and species of tree.

A difficult job made a little easier by fantastic weather.

This particular Poplar, had been left for too long, and the new growth had become dangerously heavy. It also hadn’t been pollarded correctly the last time, this led to some bucket rot and excessive deadwood.

Mind that fence James!

The close proximity of the tree to fences and other garden obstacles required some very careful lowering techniques. Progress was painfully slow, but by the time we ran out of light, everything was on the ground.

Pollard, done.