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Press release

Hunt for Britain's hidden elms

Elm Map 2005, 17-25 September 2005

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. The Natural History Museum, in partnership with the Ramblers' Association, English Nature, Sustrans, The Wildlife Trusts, The Woodland Trust and other conservation groups is calling all wildlife enthusiasts and tree lovers to join the Elm Map survey and hunt for Britain's remaining unrecorded old elms.

The Elm Map project aims to discover and map Britain's surviving mature elms in order to help their conservation in the future. As part of the project, Elm Map Walks will be held by the Ramblers' Association during their Welcome to Walking Week (17-25 September 2005).

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. A number of these species have national Biodiversity Action Plans for their conservation, for example, the orange-fruited elm lichen, Caloplaca luteoalba, and the white-spotted pinion moth, Cosmia diffinis.

Surveyors are asked to keep their eyes open for large elms and if they find one to 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.

The Elm Map project to date has recorded details of 200 mature elms. It's 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,' commented Johannes Vogel, Keeper of Botany at the Natural History Museum. 'Elms that survived Dutch elm disease could provide vital clues to their future conservation.'

The information gathered from the Elm Map project and walks will be stored on The Ancient Tree Hunt website brought together by the Woodland Trust, the Ancient Tree Forum and the Tree Register. The map will ensure trees can be monitored over time, provide information to the Conservation Foundation for their innovative Elm Cuttings Project and inform specialist groups who record the species that inhabit them assisting in their active conservation.

You can get involved by joining an Elm Map walk or by entering 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.

Notes for editors

How to identify elms
All elm trees can be distinguished from other trees by two leaf characteristics:

  • 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.
  • It is important to identify elms from mature trees as younger trees differ in foliage characteristics.

How to get involve
If you would like further information, or know of, or have found, a mature elm and would like to contribute to the map:

  • Contact Elm Map at The Woodland Trust via email enquiries@woodlan-trust.org.uk, by telephone 01476 581135 or by post Elm Map, The Woodland Trust, Autumn Park, Dysart Road, Grantham, Lincolnshire NG31 6LL.
  • Records may be entered on line at The Ancient Tree Hunt website at www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk
  • Dutch elm disease
    Dutch elm disease is transferred between elm trees by a bark beetle, but the disease itself is caused by a fungus, Ophiostoma ulmi. First discovered in France in 1918, surveys just 10 years later showed the fungus was already widespread in the UK. A new, more virulent form of the disease emerged in the 1960s leaving behind a dramatically changed landscape in the UK. More than 20 million mature elms have been lost, taking with them the home for countless other important but less conspicuous species. The majority of surviving elms are young suckers. More rarely, mature trees occur, which may be naturally disease-resistant.
  • Elm Map partner organisations: the Natural History Museum, English Nature, The Ramblers' Association, The Woodland Trust, The Tree Register, The Ancient Tree Forum, The British Bryological Society, The British Lichen Society, The British Mycological Society, Butterfly Conservation, The Conservation Foundation, The Wildlife Trusts and Sustrans. 
  • The Natural History Museum's UK Biodiversity Programme initiates innovative projects in scientific research and conservation of wildlife, of which Elm Map is one. The Natural History Museum is the UK's national museum of natural history and a centre of scientific excellence in taxonomy and biodiversity.
  • English Nature is the independent Government agency that champions the conservation of wildlife and geology throughout England. Following publication of the draft Natural Environment and Rural Communities Bill in February, English Nature, the Rural Development Service and the Countryside Agency's Landscape, Access and Recreation division are working towards integration as a single body: Natural England.  It will work for people, places and nature with responsibility for enhancing biodiversity, landscapes and wildlife in rural, urban, coastal andmarine areas; promoting access, recreation and public wellbeing, and contributing to the way natural resources are managed - so they can be enjoyed now and for future generations. Elm Map is part of English Nature's Species Recovery Programme. Through its emphasis on public involvement, this project raises awareness, and brings more people into contact with wildlife, thus contributing to English Nature's People and Nature Programme.
  • The Ramblers' Association is a charity committed to protecting Britain's countryside as well as its unique network of paths. The involvement in Elm Map is a reflection of this commitment.
  • The Woodland Trust  is the UK's leading woodland conservation charity. It has 300,000 members and supporters. The Trust has four key aims: i) No further loss of ancient woodland,
    ii) Restoring and improving the biodiversity of woods; iii) Increasing new native woodland, iv) Increasing people's understanding and enjoyment of woodland. Established in 1972, the Woodland Trust now has over 1,000 sites in its care covering approximately 20,000 hectares (50,000 acres). Access to its sites is free.
  • Sustrans is the UK's leading sustainable transport charity. Its vision is a world in which people choose to travel in ways that benefit their health and the environment. It is achieving this through innovative but practical solutions to the UK's transport challenges.
  • The Wildlife Trusts partnership is the UK's leading conservation charity dedicated to all wildlife.
For further information please telephone +44 (0)20 7942 5654 or email press@nhm.ac.uk