Elm, creating a future from the past

Once a commonplace tree, elm was favoured for furniture making and wheel building for its dense grain and strength as well as its use with water, for bridges and even pipes, due to its durability.  These days however elm is rather absent from the landscape particularly in its larger, older forms.  The majority succumbed to a fungus spread by beetles best known as Dutch elm disease that saw a rapid drop in elm numbers since the 1960’s.

The Dutch part of its name comes from much of the early study of the disease being conducted in the Netherlands.  Beetle larvae hatch and grow from dead elm, picking up spores from the fungus as they grow.  When they become beetles they fly off in search of fresh elm bark to feed on, at which point they introduce the fungus to a new tree and the cycle starts again.  The beetles favour trees over 20 years old and few elms make it beyond 30 years.  Even their regeneration is thwarted by the fungus.

The Conservation Foundation has set up The Great British Elm Project to try and bring this once common tree back to our landscape.  On a positive note not all elms have succumbed to the disease.  This could be through isolation or, as the project hopes to find and benefit from, a natural borne resistance to the disease.  Cuttings have been taken from a selection of these survivors that have lived through the last 60 years and continue to thrive.  The project has distributed these now saplings around the country where they are to be grown on and monitored to see if the survivors hold the key to the future.

Having seen the effect of the disease and its ongoing breakdown of trees, just as they seem to be getting into their stride, to come across this project towards the end of last year certainly got our attention.  Our five trees arrived in March which was getting close to the end of the planting season as sap was starting to rise, so we decided not to plant them out this year.  For now they have been potted up into bigger pots of compost and placed in our tree nursery.  This will give us the chance to plant them at a better time of year as well as giving them time to become slightly more hardy trees.


More preparation work

This project comes at a good time.  With the threat of Chalara fraxinea, there is the risk of a disease that could seriously reduce our woodland cover as it threatens one of our most prolific trees, the ash.  Ash and elm favour a lot of similar conditions, so if ash were to be seriously affected, it would be great to have a viable elm population that could help fill the gap.

We have a few thoughts on where to plant them out, certainly at Clytha in Monmouthshire where we see existing elms getting knocked back each time.  We will probably also add some to the new planting at the Skirrid car park, near Abergavenny, where they will be visible below the ancient woodland that covers the southern slopes.  As for the remaining one or two, we still have a few months to decide, so will be keeping an eye out for suitable spots across our sites.

Tim – Woodland Ranger


New Beginnings

This winter we have planted 1450 trees across the sites we look after.  Some are direct replacements for felled trees, whilst others have supplemented existing planting or were entirely new.  We plant over winter as the trees are in a dormant state whilst they wait for the warmth of spring and longer days before pushing their sap up and forming buds that will be that year’s leaves.

On the Skirrid we have completed planting of the hedge banks around the new car park.  It


Hedge planting at the Skirrid

was mostly planted in the first winter after construction, but there were some gaps at the ends where we had run out of trees.  Now the whole bank is planted and we have had a chance to replace any failed trees from the first year, a process known as ‘beating up’.
We have also been making plans to trial some elm trees that have been bred to be resistant to Dutch Elm disease.  We are just waiting for the nursery to be happy with them before planting.  We will be able to plant these later in the year as they will be bigger pot grown plants with a more developed root structure.

Jess has also planted some trees down at Lanlay Meadows following on from some hedge laying she has been doing.  In places the hedge was a little thin, so some new saplings will help to add a bit of thickness and continuity to the hedge.  Hedges are a good food source and provide features that help all sorts of wildlife travel across what would otherwise be open ground.

We have also been continuing to plant at Pont ar Daf as part of our ongoing work up there.  In the clear felled areas we have been planting a mixed upland broadleaf selection to help increase the nature value of the woods and soften its appearance in the landscape. Predominantly made up of birch, rowan and oak.  In the damper spots and along the stream edges we have been planting alder as it is very tolerant of wet ground, in fact, it rather thrives in it.  The last lot of planting has just been finished with the help from Gower National Trust Thursday Group Volunteers who also did some burning to help clear the ground for planting.

Tim – Woodland Ranger


It’s all about Pont-ar-Daf, mostly

Pont-ar-Daf remains our big focus.  As I write this we have a contractor just starting to take his harvesting machine in to tackle the larger northern section.  We do like a nice big machine, so it would be rude not to post a picture.

Harvester gets going

Harvester gets going.

Please take note of any warning signs around Pont-ar-Daf whilst the work is going on, the machines and trees are a lot bigger than you.  This work should all be finished by the end of February.

Timber harvested is making its way into fencing products, gates, sawn timber for construction, pallets and bio-fuel for power stations.

We also have some logs that we have kept for ourselves.  We will be milling these at the end of February.  This will help keep our Access and Estate teams in timber for gates, boardwalks, fencing and construction projects.  Certainly helps keep our product miles down, for some items it’ll just be a handful of miles.  In fact, the finished product may only be 100m from where it grew.

We’ve managed to get away from Pont-ar-Daf a few times too.  We’ve been planting trees in what we call the ‘plantaion’ in the Upper Tarell Valley.  We planted this block last year, but we had quite a few trees die, due to the dry spring.  We were back planting or ‘beating up’ the gaps with two of our full time volunteers, Jonny and Simon.

Before the snow we had a lot of wet weather, this caused one of the banks to slip on the Tarell river.  Several large trees came down with it, so we have been clearing them out of the river before they cause a blockage.

Timber winched out

Tree spaghetti all untangled and out of the river.

February will see our concentration kept on Pont-ar-Daf, but should also see the rides cut on the Skirrid to maintain access and a variety of habitats for woodland wildlife, especially the butterflies.  The woods team will also be joining Simon and Jonny who have been helping out with our veteran tree survey, to help them categorise some tricky trees at Clytha.

Back to the woods now,
Woods team.