There is so much universal benefit, glory and wonder to be gained from a tree in its exuberant lifecycle that it’s hard watch our big, friendly horse chestnuts get ill. These two big trees at the Whitley Pump, between Basingstoke and Christchurch Roads have a nasty blight.

The succinctly named horse chestnut leaf miner can appear in huge numbers, causing the foliage to turn brown and fall early. Thankfully, these tiny moth caterpillar larvae (as small as a grain of rice) are not killing the trees, and their industrious vandalism does occur fairly late in the season; this, along with fungal leaf blight which has a similar effect, is ruining the spectacle of the broad, veiny green chestnut leaf and depriving us of a summer-long glorious dense verdant canopy.

Some research seems to show that it is also reducing the the size of our beloved conkers by as much as 10% a year! Who will have a 100-er in the years to come I wonder?

The leaf miner was first observed in Britain at Wimbledon Common in 2002. Since then its become prevalent and it has spread to all our wonderful conker trees in Cintra Park, Whitley Rec and all over Katesgrove and Reading, including the arboreal haven of Whiteknights.

Let’s hope something can be done, as it seems the presence of this larvae and fungal leaf blight, mixed with climate change, can lead to yet more diseases such as the nasty tree killer, bleeding canker.

October Trees

How innocent were these Trees, that in
Mist-green May, blown by a prospering breeze,
Stood garlanded and gay;
Who now in sundown glow
Of serious colour clad confront me with their show
As though resigned and sad,
Trees, who unwhispering stand umber, bronze, gold;
Pavilioning the land for one grown tired and old;
Elm, chestnut, aspen and pine, I am merged in you,
Who tell once more in tones of time,
Your foliaged farewell.

Siegfried Sassoon

Matthew Farrall, the author of this article, died on 20 April 2018.
We are grateful to his family for allowing us to continue to display his work online.

  1. Horse chestnut leaf miner (Forestry Commission)
  2. The leaf-mining moth
  3. Conkers are shrinking (BBC video)