The identities of village communities are threatened by a range of economic and social factors, yet the very essence of most small settlements rarely hinge on just a single tree.
Barkston Ash is one of just a handful of places in England that is named after the tree at its heart. Local folklore suggests the tree is rooted on a spot that marks the very centre of Yorkshire, though the claim has been hotly disputed.
In the case of this village, located in the “Selby bulge” near Tadcaster, it has not been swinging cuts to local services that have cast a shadow, but the prospect of ash dieback, a disease that has killed off ash trees across large parts of continental Europe.
For about 150 years or so an ash tree has been at the centre of the village, though a new one was planted on the spot around a decade ago.
Back in November 2012, local parish councillors told of how they were nervously awaiting winter’s end to assess if any action had to be taken on the tree at the village’s heart. But since then the precious specimen has remained in good health.
The chairman of Barkston Ash Parish Council, Catherine Daniels, said: “The tree is perfectly healthy and thriving, and we have tried all sorts to make it even more of a focal point to the village.”
A Yorkshire stone boundary marker displaying the village’s name and created by Dales of Thirsk has recently been installed in front of the tree. At Christmas the tree was decorated with lights thanks to a £300 donation by fundraising pupils at the village primary school, and a triangle area of land around the tree in carefully maintained by the village In Bloom committee.
“We have tried to make the most of it,” Ms Daniels said. “There is not a lot of free land in the village. If the tree were to go everyone in the village would be extremely sad.”
Barkston Ash has been largely shielded from an influx of new housing developments. Neighbours, Sherburn-in-Elmet and Church Fenton have borne the greater brunt. However, a new threat to the village’s character has emerged. The planned High Speed 2 rail project will see a seven-metre high viaduct built nearby. Work on this section of the route is due to begin in 2023 and end in 2033.
Ms Daniels said local concerns were mainly about where the construction site will be and extra construction and commuter traffic.
She said: “We are trying to have as much impact as we can about where the construction traffic is going to be routed and we’re pushing for pre-emptive landscaping to be carried out by planting trees to shield our village from as much impact as we can.
“It’s a lovely village to live in,” Ms Daniels said.