Edinburgh is blessed with several large green spaces that reach right into the centre of the city. This is a shot of the green space known as the Meadows, full of people enjoying themselves in the summer sun.
Walking through the Meadows last year, I noticed several trees had been spray-painted with a large orange cross, and each had a unique number painted on its trunk.
It was pretty obvious what the fate of these trees was going to be.
It bothered me, knowing somehow that these lovely big trees were destined to be felled. I rang the Council to find out more, and learned that the trees were infested with Dutch elm disease fungus.
The story of Dutch elm disease is well documented, and known all too well to the people at the parks department of Edinburgh Council.
They tracked the spread of the disease northward from its first accidental introduction in sawn elm logs imported into the south of England from Europe in the 1960s. They tracked its spread and wondered whether or when it would reach Edinburgh.
At times its spread seemed to have been halted, and then it would ‘jump the gap’ and appear in parks and gardens, fields and hedgerows in the north of England and then Scotland – moving further north until it reached the city in the 1970s.
Edinburgh, and Brighton on the south coast of England, are the two places in England where the Victorian fashion for planting elms reached its height.
At one time there were 45,000 elms in Edinburgh.
Since the disease struck, the city has been losing them at the rate of about 1,000 per year.
In all, Edinburgh has lost more than 30,000 elm trees.
What Is Dutch Elm Disease?
Dutch elm disease is a fungus that attacks and destroys the system of veins under the bark of the tree.
It is carried to the tree by the elm bark beetle and once infected, the tree starts to shut down sections of it network of veins in an attempt to stop the spread of the fungus within it.
The combined destruction by the fungus and the action of the tree itself in shutting down its vascular system, strangles the tree and it dies.
There is no treatment. The Council have tried fungicides, but they don’t work because they cannot reach the fungus. They have also tried beetle traps based on pheromones. However, placing them in the right trees and in the right places is a mammoth task – so traps are impractical.
Once dead, the only solution is to cut down the tree to prevent the spread to other trees before next year’s beetles leave the tree in spring and fly to other trees and infect them.
The fight against Dutch elm disease is really a rearguard action – a continual retreat that slows down, but does not stop the spread of the disease.
The only hope is in research into disease-resistant elm trees. A lot of research is being carried out, principally in the USA. But even if it were to be successful right now, how long would it take before new trees reach maturity?
Several of the trees you can see in the photo at the top of this article are elm trees. How different the view would be without them.
The End Of Number Eight
This is number eight after it was felled just a few days ago.
When I walked by this morning, the trunk had been taken away and only a few inches of the very base of the tree remained.