Canal du Midi, Languedoc, France
The trees have been a feature of the eastern half of the canal from Toulouse to Sète since they were first planted in the 1830s and today, as we walked along the towpath, all around us they swayed gently in the breeze as though in a collective trance. Their triple purpose was to strengthen the banks, reduce water evaporation by the strong Midi sun and shade the canal boats, which originally transported delicate products like wine and fabrics. But in 2005 disaster struck and for the past six years a fungus has been attacking the trees, spreading along the waterway and defying all attempts to cure or control it.
Tree specialists have concluded that it is almost certain all the planes will have to be chopped down, burned and replaced because the trees have been struck by an outbreak of a virulent, incurable microscopic fungus which spreads through the roots and is thought to have first reached France with American GIs in the Second-World-War whose sycamore ammunition boxes were infected.
We counted ourselves lucky to have seen these magnificent trees at this time because in a couple of years or so they may well be gone.