Our precious National Elm Collection
Our Biosphere is naturally unique by being the host of the National Elm Collection in Brighton & Hove, boasting some of the rarest elm tree varieties in the world in our parks, streets, schools and gardens.
Whereas many areas in the UK lost their mature elm trees long ago to Dutch Elm Disease, Brighton & Hove has the largest remaining population in the UK due to the natural barriers and concerted efforts of people that have protected it.
In 1970, during a destructive outbreak of Dutch Elm Disease, the then borough councils of Brighton and Hove introduced a Dutch Elm Disease management plan which has been maintained ever since. The city has seen its population increase to around 50,000 trees, the highest since records began! This is despite the ever present threat of disease and the huge losses suffered in the Great Storm of 1987. Elms are well-suited to our coastal city: they tolerate our heavy chalk soils and strong sea winds, that often make life far too difficult for trees like oaks.
Believe it or not, for many years much of the area that we now see graced by elms was treeless. One of the few estates that hosted elm was Preston Park - the 400 year-old Preston Twins are living examples of hedgerow trees that once occupied narrow field systems and open parkland there.
Before the arrival of the Prince Regent, estates like Stanmer, Hodshrove in Moulsecoomb, West Blatchington Farm in Hove and the surrounding area of Portslade planted English elm Ulmus procera and Wych elm Ulmus glabra. When the Prince Regent began visiting the area in the early 1800s, elms like the Dutch elm Ulmus x hollandica ‘Major’ were introduced. The diversity of species on our residential streets is a legacy of the Stanford family who planted many rare elms on the streets of their residential estates. Much more recently the two borough councils planted many rare elm tree varieties from Europe.
In 1997 the council successfully applied to include the entire city in the National Elm Collection. This reflected the fact that elms were well-established with 120 different varieties spread across the city, and despite huge losses in the Great Storm of 1987 thousands of the trees survived including many extremely rare species. A recent survey indicates that we probably have more diversity of elm trees than any other city in the world!
Other places of particular local interest for their diversity of species include Hove Recreation Ground, Crespin Way (below), Stanmer Park, Happy Valley Park, Stanford Avenue and Old Shoreham Road.
Many of the varieties of elms in the city are now scarce and endangered. Some of the clone elm trees in Brighton have been declared as unique by Professor Hans Heybroek in his most recent visit in 2010, a Dutch expert who has been coming to appreciate our trees since the 1960s! We are now working to propagate these rare trees, with another Dutchman nurseryman Ronnie Nijboer, to ensure their future survival and hence genetic diversity. Monitoring of the population is being carried out by the organisation Plant Heritage, with my help, and we are currently cataloguing each prized rare elm.
Any resident interested in the elm tree population, including guided walks, can enquire further by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter is a researcher of elms who has been studying the tree genus for over 25 years. He helped to found the Tree Register, and contributed data for the council to achieve a successful application for National Collection status for their elm population.