Elms were once the characteristic mature trees across much of the Island’s landscape but have been devastated over the past 40 years by Dutch elm disease (DED), a lethal fungal infection spread from tree to tree by bark beetles.
The loss of English and wych elms as large trees (they still survive in hedgerows) has not only changed the look of the countryside, it has also affected a wide variety of species that were dependent on them such as the scarce white-letter hairstreak butterfly.
Since the last big outbreak on the Island in the 1990’s we distributed and planted, with the help of landowners and communities, thousands of disease resistant cultivars across the Island in an attempt to restock woods and copses and create a whole new generation of elms for the future.
History of the Elm Project
Since 1997 we worked to counteract the impact of Dutch elm disease on the Island’s landscape and biodiversity (especially the elm-feeding butterfly the white letter hairstreak Satyrium w-album).
The initial sanitation programme attempted to fell and burn infected timber to slow and then halt the progress of infection; this was rendered impossible by frequent movements of infected logs through firewood sales. Instead Gift to Nature worked with British Butterfly Conservation and Southampton University to source resistant elms which could replace both the landscape feature of the lost trees and suitable habitat for elm-feeding invertebrates. The chosen tree, Ulmus LUTECE was then imported from France at 1000 trees a year for three years and planted out on our sites, farms, school grounds, public parks, incorporated into Defra and Forestry Commission planting schemes and sold in small numbers to private individuals. We have continued to work to source new resistant varieties and plant when we have the opportunity to.
As our initial disease-resistant elms matured, we witnessed the return of the White-letter hairstreak butterfly to Towngate in Newport.