The Great Chartwell Elm Experiment


Last year, one of the main horticultural talking points was the serious threat of Ash Dieback disease caused by the fungus Chalara fraxinea. This is an ongoing problem that could potentially wipe out huge numbers of Ash trees around Britain. Some readers of this blog may be old enough to spot a similarity to the Dutch Elm Disease outbreak that occurred in this country during the last century. Caused by members of the Ascomycota fungal family, and spread by the Elm Bark Beetle, it was deadly to Elm tree (Ulmus sp.) populations.

Dutch Elm Disease was first spotted in Europe in 1910 having originally been native to Asia. It reached Britain in 1927 but was followed by a much nastier strain of the disease in the late 1960’s which was introduced into the country via a shipment of Ulmus thomasii logs from America. This strain was highly contagious and lethal to European Elms. To date over 25,000,000 Elm trees have been lost in the UK alone.

Here at Chartwell we are working with The Conservation Foundation as part of the Great British Elm Experiment to try and repopulate our estate here with strains of Elm which have so far proved resistant to the disease. The scheme builds on earlier elm projects in the past 30 years. Cuttings taken from mature trees that appear to have resisted Dutch elm disease for over 60 years have been skilfully micro propagated. The resulting saplings are being distributed to hundreds of schools, community groups, local authorities and private landowners.

Our consignment of Elms that arrived late last year

Our consignment of Elms that arrived late last year

We received our collection of young, resistant Elm trees via Chris Trimmer from the National Trust Plant Conservation Centre which propagates and preserves the plant collections of all of the National Trust gardens. More information on this project can be discovered by watching this video courtesy of The Guardian newspaper. This week we began planting out our Elm saplings in various locations across our woodland and parkland estate. We are very optimistic and hopeful of their survival and very pleased to play our part in this important scheme.

Alex gets busy planting one of our Elms...

Alex gets busy planting one of our Elms…

...while Ben makes sure it isn't another type of pest that causes the Elms any harm!

…while Ben makes sure it isn’t another type of pest that causes the Elms any harm!

The strains of resistant Elm that we have been tasked with planting are 5 x Ulmus minor ‘Boxworth 3’, 5 x Ulmus minor ‘Keyston’ and 5 x Ulmus minor ‘Hatley St. George’. More information on the parents of our little baby Elms can be found by clicking here and selecting the relevant trees. We will monitor our Elms and record their growth patterns as well as obviously any signs of disease.

As David Shreeve, Director of The Conservation Foundation says “We want to interest a new generation in the elm, so much a feature of the British life and landscape for centuries and also to try and find out why some trees survived Dutch elm disease. So many have disappeared over recent years that we can only hope to replace some. But rather than just give up and forget the elm, we think it’s worth a try.” Perhaps a similar project might one day have to be created in order to save the Ash trees? We hope it won’t come to that but if it does we’ll do our best here at Chartwell to see a happy ending to that story too.



1 Comment

Filed under Chartwell Life, Plants

One response to “The Great Chartwell Elm Experiment

  1. Helen Moulsley

    OK, I confess I remember dutch elm disease. Sadly the large elms in the playground of my primary school are no longer; the tumbling leaves in autumn were so beautiful and part of my childhood memories.

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