Bonkers About Conkers
Some thoughts about conker trees and all the other trees that make where we live a better place to be.
With autumn comes conkers. To be a little more precise about it, with autumn comes horse chestnut tree mast – ‘mast’ is the fruit of woodland trees.
Around Caversham and Emmer Green there are a fair few of these often magnificent trees. In recent years though, it’s not uncommon to see them looking a bit tatty … I gather there are two problems, in particular, that they’re being hit with – a canker which can kill them, and a leaf miner moth that’s not always (quite) so evil, but still causes a lot of damage. I’m no expert on these things. From what I have read, I’d say enjoy these trees while you can because they might not be around for many more years.
But that sombre note aside … a few years ago I grew a horse chestnut from a conker – albeit quite by accident – and it was eventually planted as a young tree in a Welsh valley. So, this year, seeing all the mast around on the floor, I was wondering about repeating the same thing, but in more of a managed way. Pick up some conkers, nurture them in pots until they are young trees, plant them out. One small problem – nowhere to plant them. My Welsh friend has moved and most domestic gardens simply aren’t big enough – mine included.
Good fortune: I know someone who knows someone who works for a local parks department. But approaching them only yielded bad news: growing a conker tree might be a nice idea, but insurance companies don’t like anyone growing big trees any more. This is nothing to do with any problems besetting horse chestnut trees in particular. This is any big tree. It seems that, to insurance companies, the – let’s face it – small risks of someone getting hurt by a tree or property being damaged by a root (etc) outweigh the huge gains to be had from having large as well as smaller trees; a mixed habitat.
That seems to me to be terribly sad and terribly misguided – and, well, a bit bonkers. We cannot prevent all risk, and too often to reduce one risk is to create a different one. A healthy habitat is a broadly varied one. If you want a good variety of wildlife, you need a good variety of habitats. Without a good variety of habitats, humans suffer as well as all other life.