A campaign has been launched to protect Britain’s last major surviving population of English elms. Supported by £98,000 of Heritage Lottery funding, the Conservation Foundation‘s aim with Ulmus Maritime is to raise awareness of these elegant, once-common trees and to train people to help regenerate the species in Sussex, where they’ve retained a toehold (www.ulmusmaritime.org).

When Dutch Elm disease destroyed more than 25 million trees in the 1970s, those around the Sussex coast escaped the worst ravages, helped by protection from the Downs and the Channel and by prompt action by local council officers to eradicate diseased specimens.

However, a Defra-commissioned report notes that funding cutbacks could lead to the loss of Sussex’s elms within a decade. Project co-ordinator James Coleman points out: ‘The English elm has considerable value for wildlife. The larvae of several species of moth, such as the duskylemon sallow, feed on elms, as does the endangered white-letter hairstreak butterfly, which is clinging on in Sussex. Elm bark is home to many species of lichen and the trees are favoured nesting sites for ravens, which are increasingly returning to Sussex, and for the lesser spotted woodpecker.’

Defra research on ash dieback disease shows that it’s likely to be chiefly restricted to the South-East and East Anglia, due to spores blowing across the Channel. Fieldwork is being carried out on four potential treatments.

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