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Hunt for Britain’s hidden elms

14 September 2005

The hunt has begun for Britain's remaining unrecorded old elms. Wildlife enthusiasts are getting ready for the Elm Map survey taking place 17-25 September as part of the  Welcome to Walking Week 2005, organised by the Ramblers' Association.

A walker hugging a mature elm in 2003 © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

A walker hugging a mature elm in 2003 © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Participants are asked to search for a large elm, measure its girth and record its location. The age of an elm is reflected by its size: simply wrapping your arms around it in a 'hug' can identify a mature elm. If it is too big to hug then the tree may have survived the height of Dutch elm disease and should be recorded.

Since 2003 the Elm Map project has recorded details of 200 mature elms. It is hoped this year that figure could be doubled by more members of the public recording in parts of Britain previously unsurveyed.

'Mature elms in parks, gardens and urban areas are just as important as those found in the countryside,' said Johannes Vogel, Keeper of Botany at the Natural History Museum. 'Elms that survived Dutch elm disease could provide vital clues to their future conservation.'

A man by an elm tree © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

A man by an elm tree © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

The decline of the elms
The nation's mature elm trees have declined dramatically in the past 100 years, from 20 million trees in 1905 to just a few hundred known survivors today. Elms provide a home to a rich variety of wildlife, including butterflies, moths, beetles, lichens, mosses and fungi. The decline of elms due to Dutch elm disease threatens much of this wildlife and several species have now virtually disappeared from the British countryside.

Record your elm data
The information gathered from the Elm Map project and walks will be stored on The Ancient Tree Hunt website. Join an Elm Map walk or enter your elm discoveries online at www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk . A full list of Elm Map walks is available from the Ramblers' Association at www.ramblers.org.uk .

Elm leaf close up © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

Elm leaf close up © The Natural History Museum, London 2005

How to identify elms

  • Elm leaves tend to be oval and have a jagged edge similar to a saw-toothed edge. Each saw-tooth has a second smaller tooth.
  • The base of each leaf is asymmetrical with one edge of the leaf higher up the stalk than the other.