Believed to be introduced into England in the Bronze age, and once a common sight across rural landscapes, the English Elm was decimated in the 1970s due to Dutch Elm Disease. Known for their magnificent beauty, English elms trees can reach over 30 metres in height and live more than 100 years. Throughout history English elms trees were a staple of hedgerows and were an important part of the British landscape.

Like many other farms, Awnells lost 200 trees when Dutch elm disease cut a swathe through the UK elm population. The disease, which is caused by fungi and spread from tree to tree by elm bark beetles, has killed tens of millions of elm trees in the UK since its accidental introduction in the ‘60s.

A new disease-resistant elm tree has been developed by Herefordshire Tree Warden Tony Norman and his team. These hybrid trees look like the elms of old but have a resistance to disease. The CRT volunteers would like to plant 100 of these in hedgerows where the Dutch elms were removed.

Replanting this hybrid in hedgerows around Awnells will not only help restore the farmland’s character, but it will also benefit the local ecosystem too. The elm is an important part of our countryside, with 82 insect species and 187 lichen species associated with it.

Among these is the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, a species that has suffered a 93% population decline since the ‘70s. Its disappearance can most likely be attributed to Dutch elms disease affecting its main food source - the caterpillars eat the tree’s buds and leaves and the adults eat its honeydew sap. As the butterfly is now a BAP (Biodiversity Action Plan) priority species, it is hoped that initiatives like this one will help support its recovery.   

The butterfly, which has brown underwings with a white W-shaped streak and an orange edge, small tails and an erratic flight, has been shown to survive on a hybrid variety of elm tree that has been developed to be disease resistant.

It will cost approximately £2,500 to purchase 100 hybrid disease-resistant trees and restore the heritage of Awnell’s Farm.

Will you make a donation so that the CRT can carry out this conservation work and helping to lay down roots for a tree-filled future. Not to mention hope for boosting the White-letter Hairstreak butterfly population!

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