Collecting the folklore and uses of plants

Pollarded ashes

Old ash (Fraxinus excelsior) trees which have been pollarded – had their branches regularly lopped to encourage fresh growth – can be found scattered localities throughout England.  The reasons for this practice probably varies from place to place, but it seems as if it was most frequently done to provide cattle fodder.

An interesting account of this is provided by Geoffrey Halliday in his 1997 Flora of Cumbria, where pollarded trees are called ‘cropping ashes’.  Here Halliday cites a passage from Thomas Pennant’s Tour of Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides in 1772, published in 1774.  While passing through what is now Cumbria Pennant:

‘Observed that the tops of the ash trees were lopped; and was informed that it was done to feed the cattle in Autumn, when the grass was on the decline; the cattle peeling off the bark as food.  In Queen Elizabeth’s time the inhabitants of Colton and Hawksheadfells remonstrated against the number of forges in the county, because they consumed all the loppings and croppings, the sole  winter food for their cattle.’

088More recently, according to Halliday:

‘The straight branches were cut at 4-5 year intervals and used within living memory to make wattle fences, known, at least in Borrowdale, as ”stake-and-rise”.  The stakes were driven into the ground and long twigs known as rise were woven between them.  At an earlier period  rise was almost certainly used as winter fodder, probably cut leafy and dried, as still the practice in the mountain valleys of Scandinavia in this century.’

Around Branscombe on the south Devon coast, ashes were pollarded ‘primarily for the wood from the poles which provided high quality fuel for bread ovens of the local bakery … [but] it seems likely that the cut branches were left for the local livestock to strip off leaves and bark as part of the seasoning of the wood prior to the removal and burning’ [1].

1.  K. Alexander, The Cotswold ash pollards:  A unique heritage in need of active conservation, Gloucestershire Naturalist 21: 4-9, 2010.

Information on the use of pollarded ashes elsewhere would be appreciated; please send it to

Images: main, near Grasmere, Cumbria, May 2015; inset, Uppertown, Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, November 2015.