The Great British Elm Experiment

29 07 2010
New hope for the elm

The first 250 schools to join The Conservation Foundation’s Great
British Elm Experiment received their young tree during the first
week of March, the start of Spring during the United Nations International Year of Biodiversity. Successive age groups of pupils
throughout the country will be monitoring and caring for an elm
tree from a sapling upwards in an experiment to unlock the mystery
of why some trees survived Dutch elm disease which is estimated to
have killed 25 million elms from the 1960s onwards.
Schools have been asked to log their tree’s progress over the years
on The Conservation Foundation website. Height, girth, biodiversity
and any signs of Dutch elm disease will be recorded and it is hoped
that with time – and luck – a new generation of elms will become
established throughout the country and a new generation will be
encouraged to have an interest in elms and biodiversity. The project
also heralds new hope for the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly for
which elm is the sole food plant.
This new national elm planting campaign is using young trees
propagated from mature healthy native elms which The Conservation
Foundation has discovered still growing in the English countryside.
It is part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Elms Across Europe, the project which led to the setting up of the Foundation by David Shreeve and David Bellamy in 1982. Hundreds of schools, community gardens, local authorities and landowners contacted The Conservation Foundation when The Great British Elm Experiment was announced last autumn. The first 250 schools were chosen to give a broad geographical spread with different environmental conditions. More young trees will be available in the autumn.
Each small tree will be accompanied by a certificate showing its species
and the location of its parent tree and a poster with growing tips and
project ideas. Further materials will be added to The Conservation Foundation website which will report on the experiment as it develops. The data recorded will be reviewed by an ‘Elm Advisory Group’, made up of elm experts and enthusiasts, which the Foundation hopes to establish.
“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,” says David Shreeve. He continues, “So many have disappeared over recent years that we can only hope to replacesome. But rather than just give up and forgetthe elm, we think it’s worth a try.” More elm saplings will be available later this year and in 2011. Anyone interested in taking part in The Great British Elm Experiment is invited to contact The Conservation Foundation by email at



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