"Nobody cares about an old tree like me", he said
‘I’m no use to anyone any more. I’ve got an old, knotty trunk, twisted branches and I have an ache in my fork,’ he sighed.
At the fork in his trunk, where two great branches met, rainwater had collected over the years. It soaked through the bark and made the wood soft and damp.
But some things in the forest liked old, damp wood. Fungus did and it started to grow in Ash’s old, aching fork. It sent little threads, like roots, down into the damp wood. ‘That tickles!’ said Ash. But as the fungus got bigger, the wood began to get softer and weaker.
‘Oh!’ said Ash. ‘I’m not sure I like this!’ It was hard to hold his heavy branch up.
Then, one wild and rainy night, there was a loud crack and the branch snapped right off. ‘Oh dear,’ said Ash. But at least the pain of holding up the heavy branch with soft, old wood was gone. Now there was just a great scar of bare wood and the beginnings of a hole.
The fungus kept growing and, as it grew, the wood became softer and started to rot. ‘No one is going to want a rotten old tree like me,’ sighed Ash.
But the beetles did. Beetles like nice, soft wood. ‘Over here!’ cried a beetle. ‘Is it soft? Is it damp?’ asked another. It was. The crumbling, damp wood was the perfect place to lay their eggs. When the young beetle grubs hatched, they ate the dead, damp wood, and made little tunnels as they burrowed through it.
Some birds saw the damp wood too. They knew that meant beetles. Very soon, the birds were pecking at the wood to get to the lovely, juicy, beetle grubs. ‘Oi!’ said Ash. ‘Stop it!’ But as the beetle grubs tunnelled and the birds pecked, the hole got bigger.
The beetle grubs turned into adults and flew away. Ash was all alone again. Over the years the rain fell. Beetles returned. Grubs tunnelled and birds pecked. The hole grew bigger. Ash got quite used to having a hole. He was never quite sure what would happen to it next.
One year, a female great tit spied the hollow. ‘That’s almost right for a nest,’ she said. She chipped out a few more bits of wood to make it a little bigger. ‘There. Perfect!’ She lined it with grass and moss and sheep’s wool and animal hair. Then she laid her seven eggs.
Ash was as excited as a tree could be waiting for the eggs to hatch. When they did, there were seven cheeping chicks snuggled in his hole. But by the end of the summer, the chicks had grown up and were gone. The hole was empty again and Ash was all alone once more.
Summer turned to autumn and the nights became colder. Ash felt a little fluttering deep inside. It was a little wren and it had found the hole. ‘Ooh,’ said the wren. ‘I must tell the others!’ So it did. That night, five or six wrens all huddled together in the hole. They kept each other dry and warm through the cold, dark night. And they slept there every night for the whole winter.
‘Perhaps I’m not so old and useless after all,’ said Ash happily. It was true. An old tree with a hole was very important in the forest. Think of all the creatures that needed it!