Recording Fineshade's remaining elm trees

The English countryside used to be full of elm trees - until the coming of the dreaded Dutch Elm disease in the late 1960s. Within 10 years nearly all the mature elms had died. Since then elms have continued to survive in hedgerows, but once they grow to about 5m tall the disease attacks again and the new trees die. You can see many small dead elms in the hedge on the left hand side at the start of the lane up to Fineshade from the A43.

 

However, a few mature elms survive in and around Fineshade and it seems particularly important to record where they are. What is it about these trees that allowed them to survive and, apparently flourish?  The picture right was taken at the far northeast corner of Fineshade (The Assarts). It shows a group of mature elms in the hedge-line and there are about 20 other, smaller trees within the wood itself. These have now been identified as Huntingdon Elms, Ulmus vegeta - see below.

A European White Elm

On the left is another mature elm, one of three that stand beside the overflow carpark at Top Lodge. It has very distinctive serrated leaves marked with veins and they narrows to a fine tip at the top. But notice how the bottom of the leaf near the stalk is completely asymmetrical.  In May the flowers change into flat wing-like fruits called samaras.

Thanks Tony Vials for letting us know that this tree is a European White Elm, Ulmus laevis, and is rare in the UK. It can be readily identified by the samaras that hang on long stalks as shown in the picture above right.  According to Wikipedia:

"Although not possessed of an innate genetic resistance to Dutch elm disease, the species is rarely infected in western Europe".

Propagating Fineshade's elms

In 2019 Friends of Fineshade started to locate all the remaining elms in Fineshade and, where possible, to collect some seed from each group. We were struck by how different the samaras on the different trees can be - see below.  Maybe this would be a clue to help identify the different species of elms that we have here in Fineshade and we hoped to get expert help with this. In the meantime nine batches of seeds were sent to the Forestry Commission's tree nursery in Cheshire where they would be grown under controlled conditions.  Perhaps the seedlings from these mature Elms could be planted in Fineshade and elsewhere in Rockingham Forest to help restore part of our lost heritage of native tree species.

14 June - germination

By early June many of the seeds had germinated in the tree nursery and they had been carefully pricked out into individual cells to grow on. The rate of germination differed immensely - see the table below.

 

Fineshade's White Elm (tree G) was the most prolific whereas nothing came up at all from tree I, a mature tree in the middle of Wakerley Great Wood, again thought to be White Elm.

Special thanks to to Vernon and Shaun at the tree nursery and especially Jadwiga.

The seedlings were grown on during the summer and will be transferred back to Fineshade in October for subsequent planting out.

7 September - species identification

 

Brian Eversham, the Chief Executive of the Wildlife Trust for Beds, Cambs and Northants has been making a special study of elms, having recently produced a key to enable all 62 of the known British species to be identified. This involves studying carefully the features of their leaves - size, shape, roughness etc.

We were therefore really grateful to Brian for spending a day here with fellow botanist Lewis Saunders. They visited all nine trees from which seedlings are being grown, along with many other mature trees and saplings that we have managed to find during the summer. In all Brian took leaf specimens from 19 different locations (including a few from Wakerley Great Wood). These turned out to be from seven different species: Southern Wych Elm, Huntingdon Elm, English Elm, White Elm, Narrow-leaved Elm, Atinian Elm and Coritanian Elm.

There are two or three more possible species which Brian hopes to be able to confirm during a visit earlier in the summer next year.

Brian and Lewis were surprised and delighted both by the size and robustness of many of the trees in the wood and by the variety of elms they found. Brian said that there had probably never been a more productive day spent surveying elms in Northamptonshire. 

An elm "discovered" on the edge of the wood after Brian's visit, so still unidentified to species.

Aren't some elms beautiful?

16 October - young trees arrive back

Today the young trees were delivered to Fineshade ready for planting. They all looked very healthy indeed and had clearly been carefully looked after by the staff at Forestry England's tree nursery in Delamere Forest.

It was interesting to see the different leaf shapes and textures of the five species. There was also a clear difference in their vigour, with the seedlings from the White Elm far and away outpacing the four other species.

 

Soon many of the young trees will be planted back in Fineshade where we hope they will, in time, grow into mature trees like their parents. Who knows, perhaps these new trees will also prove to be less likely to be affected by Dutch Elm Disease.

 

We hope that other seedlings will end up on the Wildlife Trust's nearby nature reserves and we are open to suggestions of other potential sites where they could be planted in the neighbourhood.

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