Weekend Wandering: Chippenham's horse chestnuts

A sorry looking horse chestnut tree in Chippenham
Looking up the hill on Malmesbury Road  
Chippenham has many stately horse chestnut trees, on our side of town in particular. Sadly all the ones I know of are heavily infested with leaf mining moth, and lend an early autumnal air to our townscape from July onwards. As the flowers of Aesculus hippocastanum bloom early enough to be unaffected, their candle-like blooms still make a welcome sight in spring.

The view coming into Chippenham from the M4
Looking down the hill with the tree featured in the top photo behind me. All the brown you can see are horse chestnut trees
The tell-tale signs leaf mining moth is in town
Late afternoon sunshine reveals the problem: each brown spot is home to a leaf mining moth
It's a while since I wrote about this problem and at the time there was some hope in the shape of a parasitic wasp. Conker Tree Science led a citizen science project to see if  it could help to control moth infestations. Whilst there was indeed some impact, their results show it was insufficient to make the desired effect. Their research continues, as does research by the Forestry Commission.

The conkers are ready to drop

Most online advice is reassuring about the moth's impact on tree health, and 2017 certainly looks a good year for conkers. I'd like to see some research conducted on the numbers produced, size and seed viability though.

Previously it was thought the moth's effects might make trees more vulnerable to bleeding canker. Research results published by the Forestry Commission seems to lay that concern to rest.

The scene closer to home
Sadly the horse chestnuts I can see as I write this post are affected too 
A couple of smaller trees overhang the front side garden at VP Gardens. There are few conkers here this year, though that could be due to the relative age of the trees rather than the effect of the moth. The current advice is to compost affected leaves or bury them deep enough so the moth can't emerge in spring. However, it's almost impossible for me to get into the area where most of the leaves drop, so infestation is set to continue in my neck of the woods.

Horse chestnuts are no longer an option for future public planting schemes and I wonder what we might have instead had our house been built a few years later. According to the RHS other chestnut trees are a suitable alternative, with the Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica) the closest in size and appearance. It's a good pollinator option too.

A recent chat on the All Horts Facebook Group suggested the pink-flowered red horse chestnut (Aesculus x carnea) isn't affected. This observation is backed up in the Forestry Commission's research linked to above, unless the tree is close to heavily infested horse chestnut(s). I'll be on the look out for any local specimens next spring and monitoring them to see what happens.

How are your neighbourhood's trees looking this weekend?


  1. Sad isn't it? There are two mature chestnuts just outside our garden but very much in view. It has been sad to watch their decline over the years. I've also noticed that we no longer get children straying down into the garden to look for conkers which we did when we first moved here. Sign of the times?

    1. Yes, really sad Anna. I must have a look at the alternatives so see what their potential for conkers is like. I'll add that to the list for my pink flowered tree hunt next year 😊


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