For nearly a year, ecologist and entomologist Patrick Roper has been turning up once a month, blasting gale or blazing sun, to roam around the farm armed with bottles, boxes and plastic bags. In them he puts insects. We won’t know what he’s found till August when he reports on the insect year here, but it’s a lot. It seems he multi-tasks and knows a lot about plants and trees too. Last winter he told me to get a couple of wild service trees for The Dean Wood. Great for bio-diversity; rare as hen’s teeth; and excellent for making alcohol from. I checked out the prices, and at £75 for a small one I decided to pass on it until we won the lottery.
Yesterday Patrick, sporting a natty handkerchief on his head, told me he had long since been a Wild Service Tree sleuth. In fact he said he didn’t find them; they found him. And two of them found him on the border of the Poor Field, our finest wildflower meadow. I’ve been here for 20 years and never seen them, but then until you spot one it’s hard to know what to look for.
He was very pleased, and so was I, so I took a picture, in case you’ve never seen one before. I then checked it up in Archie Miles’s fabulous tree encyclopaedia, ‘Silva’. And lo! Patrick Roper himself, our own ecologist, is quoted under the bit on Wild Service Trees. ‘Service is thought by some to be a corruption of Sorbus, the tree’s botanical name’ (sorbus torminalis – other sorbi are rowan and whitebeam) ‘…while other authorities state that ‘service’ is derived from ‘cervisia’ meaning beer. Recent thinking has moved away from the beery theory, as Richard Mabey reports in Flora Britannica that Patrick Roper, who has researched the subject, now believes that ‘service’ derives from the Old English ‘syrfe’, and that the drink made from the service berries was more of a liqueur than a beer.
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