The Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)

The common Ash is native to the UK and found all over Europe, from the Arctic Circle to Turkey; it is the third most prevalent tree in the UK.

You will find out all about native Flora and Fauna, including Ash on your Forest School training, and most likely identify it on your Forest School Site.

So what does an Ash Tree look like?

The Ash can grow to 35m tall and live for up to 400 years, longer of coppiced and maintained properly. Often found growing together, the growing leaves create domed canopies. The leaves of the Ash tree are similar to those of the Mountain Ash (Rowan) but are not serrated like the Rowan leaves. They are formed in 3-6 opposite pairs of oval light green leaves. These can grow to 40cm long. Ash trees can be exclusively male and female or are hermaphrodite with both male and female branches on a single tree.

Ash leaves fall fairly early, meaning that the bare canopies are ideal for the thriving of the ground layer beneath it. Benefiting wild garlic, dog violet, and other wildflowers. The wildlife and insects benefit too, including the rare high brown fritillary butterfly.

The high canopies are useful nesting grounds for many birds including owls, woodpeckers, and nuthatches to name a few. The lesser stag beetle thrives on the deadwood that ash provides. As well as growing together, Hazel trees often grow underneath them, providing habitat for dormice. You can read more about that on our Hazel blog.


The Ash is currently under threat from Ash Dieback, or Chalara Dieback of Ash. This is a disease caused by the Hymenoscyphus fraxineus fungus. This disease causes trees to lose their leaves and the canopy to die back, by blocking the water transport systems. This causes the leaf loss and substantial lessons in the wood. The tree eventually often dies. The younger trees are the most vulnerable, and due to age and fragility they succumb quickly to the disease and will be killed off quicker than those of a more significant age.

The spreading of the disease can be wind borne distribution and through fungal spores, but its also believed a large amount of spread comes from infected nursery stock.

Although the disease wasn’t found in the UK until 2012, it could have been here longer.

There are many organisations working hard and fronting projects to secure the future of Ash trees across the British Isles. This includes The Woodland Trust, and our close partners Sylva Foundation with their Living Ash Project .

How to spot Ash Dieback-

  • Blackened and dead leaves that can resemble frost damage
  • In older more mature trees, the thinning of the canopy layer with dead twigs, yet the thriving of the tree further down in new shoots.
  • In younger trees and saplings the tops of the trees and side shoots will be dead.
  • Dark lesions are found on the trunk of dead shoots. And the tips become black and shrivelled.

Uses – Ash has been used for making tools for many years due to its strengths. Tool handles like axes, and hammers are made of ash because of its shock absorption properties. The wood is also used for making sports equipment like hockey sticks and oars. Ash is also as popular as oak for making furniture as it is a particularly beautiful wood.

Folklore – The Ash was to believed to possess medicinal properties, with the wood being burnt to ward off evil spirits. The Ash is believed to be a healing tree and is referred to as ‘The Tree of Life’ in Norse Viking mythology.

If you'd like to book a place on one of our courses, please click on the link below...