Dutch elm disease: a thing of the past?

The key to a permanent resistance to Dutch elm disease may have been found.

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The key to a permanent resistance to Dutch elm disease may have been found.

Dutch Elm disease has long been a problem for elm trees – there are fewer than 100 left in the UK. The disease is spread by the elm bark beetle, which carries the fungal disease. It has been estimated to have killed off and affected 25 million elms since the 1960s.

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But several trees discovered on an island in the Cotswolds could potentially hold the key to saving the elm species, researchers say.

Four small-leaved elm trees, known as the Coln Park elms, have been found on two islands at a lake at the Cotswold Water Park.

The foursome has managed to escape infection from the elm bark beetle, or are perhaps resistant to the disease.

One of the ancient trees, thought to be over 100 years old, is being used as a parent through its saplings in a ploy to create a new generation of disease resistant elms and repopulate the species.

Lake ecologist, Bennedict Pollard made the spectacular discovery in the unusual location, but kept his findings secret for over a year while experts from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh confirmed the type of elm he had found.

As part of the Great British elm experiment, the Conservation Foundation charity has successfully grown saplings from the mature Coln Park elm, which they plan to circulate among the land-owning community, schools and other environmental community groups interested in the project.

Bennedict told the Gloucestershire Echo that he thought it was wonderful; that the cuttings have taken root because there is now a great chance of reintroducing “one of the greatest native trees back to the British countryside”.

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Special conditions have been created for the elms to enhance their development. A kilometre long lake has filled the dug out quarries around the trees creating two islands, near Lechlade.