Conkers have had a poor deal in recent years. They’ve been banned from school yards and have suffered from environmental changes, resulting in fewer trees, smaller ‘fruits’ and the threat of pests.
And yet the horse chestnut tree has been a part of England’s green and pleasant land since the 16th century.
In the news recently, it was reported that studies have shown that conkers this year are just half their normal weight, that the deluge of summer rain has affected their growth and the leaf miner moth has eaten them away.
Pests and fungal diseases are a common threat to our trees and it is the spread of the leaf miner moth (Cameraria ohridella)that has been the biggest risk to the horse chestnut this year. Its larvae chew through the leaves, eating up the chlorophyll, which kills off the tree as this denies it the sunlight that it must absorb to produce food and seeds. This action by the moth causes the disease bleeding canker which produces lesions that ooze rusty red or black gummy liquid from the trunks or branches of trees. Because of the continued threat to the trees, many are being cut down and not replaced.
In addition, months of rain throughout the summer have affected the trees’ growth.
The lack of conkers has been especially felt in Suffolk where a variety of conker contests take place in autumn each year. Regulars at Ye Olde Bell and Steelyard pub in Woodbridge, Suffolk have searched high and low for quality conkers but most that they’ve found have been small or diseased specimens. Would-be contestants at the West Suffolk CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) Conker Championship held at the Fox and Hounds in Thurston, Suffolk were suffering the same fate.
A University of Reading study showed that conkers from the moth-infested trees weighed only 4.2g compared to 8g for those from healthy trees.
Coupled with the fact that health and safety conscious teachers have banned conkers from school playgrounds, both because of the fear of injury or triggering a nut allergy, the outlook for the common conker is not good.
So, if you do have a horse chestnut on or around your property and find signs of the leaf miner moth or bleeding canker, do contact a tree surgeon for advice on how to deal with it. Gabriel Ash may use western red cedar to make our greenhouses, but we naturally care about all trees. We all need to play our part in preserving them and maintaining our conker traditions.
For more information about the threat to horse chestnuts, see http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2212160/Conker-competitions-threat-moths-non-stop-rain-kill-horse-chestnuts.html