More worrying still, one of the two big Yew trees alongside the church has started to show signs of dieback, a large area of foliage on one side turning a sickly yellow in the spring and eventually dying, the crisped brown leaflets still adhering to the twigs at the current time. I could find no sign of a cracked branch to account for these symptoms and, potentially, they could be a sign of infection by the fungus like pathogen Phytophthora ramorum otherwise known as Sudden Oak Death. According to the Forestry Commission website this disease, which is thought to have been introduced from North America on imported trees, initially attacked species such as Rhododendron, Viburnum and Camelia in this country but has since infected large numbers of Japanese Larch in plantations in south-west England, necessitating wholesale felling in order to try and contain it. At the onset of the disease the only Yews attacked were some young trees growing alongside an infected Viburnum in a nursery but since 2009 the disease has shown signs of expanding its range and infecting additional species, large numbers of Lawson's Cypress on one estate in Scotland among them. It is also known to attack the Pacific Yew, a close relative of our own species. Brentwood Country Care have been informed but, hopefully, the churchyard yew will prove to be suffering from something less serious. The loss of this tree would be the most serious blow yet to the churchyard as a neighbouring yew, which was split in two by the hurricane of 1987, proved on examination of the tree rings to be around 350 years old, and the infected yew almost certainly dates from the same era.
On a more cheerful note, my visit today turned up two new fungi for the churchyard, both growing on twigs on log piles in the conservation area. These were Antrodia serialis, a bracket fungi, on Scots Pine branches and the Winter Oysterling Crepidotus cesatii, on deciduous twigs, a species which seems able to withstand anything this season can throw at it. There was also a fine display of Winter Polypore, Polyporus brumalis. Elsewhere in the village, Snowdrops were seen in bloom on January 4th and the catkins of Turkish Hazel are now shedding pollen. No sign of the native tree following suit yet though. No luck with moths in the garden either but it is difficult to find a night when it is not tipping it down with rain.