The elm tree can return to the British countryside, given a helping hand, according to a new report.
More than 20 million trees died during the 1960s and 1970s from Dutch elm disease, reports BBC.In the aftermath, the elm was largely forgotten, except among a handful of enthusiasts who have been breeding elite elms that can withstand attack.
The research is showing promise and there is reason to be hopeful, said the Future Trees Trust charity. Report author, Karen Russell, said mature specimens have been identified that are hundreds of years old, and have mysteriously escaped the epidemic. And a new generation of elm seedlings are being bred, which appear to be resistant to the disease.
“The current state is that we know a lot about where the mature trees are and we know more than we’ve ever done about the opportunities in terms of research possibilities,” she said. “With the right people in the right place and the funding we can put elm back in the landscape.”
When Dutch elm disease swept through southern Britain in the 1960s and 70s, over 90% of elms were lost; an estimated 25 million trees. The disease, which is caused by a rogue fungus, is still present in the countryside, and spreading north, though it has not yet reached parts of Scotland.
Returning mature trees to the landscape requires a new generation of trees that can fight off attack. Some European countries have already made progress in crossing “elite” disease-resistant elms with local elms for planting in parks, towns and the countryside.