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Born again: the beloved elm

PUBLISHED: 09:21 10 March 2010 | UPDATED: 09:24 01 August 2010

IT is a tree that was commonplace across the British countryside two generations ago.

But the relentless march of Dutch elm disease has virtually wiped the elm out, leaving it to live on in paintings like Constable's Haywain and in evocative place names such as Elm Hill in Norwich.

IT is a tree that was commonplace across the British countryside two generations ago.

But the relentless march of Dutch elm disease has virtually wiped the elm out, leaving it to live on in paintings like Constable's Haywain and in evocative place names such as Elm Hill in Norwich.

Now, though, a clutch of Norfolk and Suffolk schools, including Mendham Primary, are playing their part in a grand nationwide plan to bring it back.

Nine Norfolk and Suffolk schools are among 250 across Britain that have received saplings grown from some of the few mature trees that survived the outbreak of Dutch elm disease that claimed the lives of 25m elms from 1967 onwards.

The Great British Elm Experiment, run by the Conservation Foundation, will monitor the growth of the young trees and establish whether any have high resistance or immunity to the fungus that causes the disease.

The schools received their saplings last week, and it is hoped their tree TLC will help scientists understand why some trees survived the Dutch elm epidemic.

The schoolchildren will log their tree's progress over the years, recording its height, girth and any signs of disease.

The planting campaign is using young trees propagated from mature healthy native elms, including some “parents” at Castle Acre in west Norfolk.

Each parent elm is more than 60 years old. They are a mixture of several species and sub-species.

The campaign is part of the 30th anniversary celebrations of Elms across Europe, the project which led to the setting up in 1982 by David Shreeve and David Bellamy of the Conservation Foundation.

Mr Shreeve said: “We want to interest a new generation in the elm, so much a feature of British life and landscape for centuries, and also try to find out why some trees survived Dutch elm disease.

“So many have disappeared over recent years that we can only hope to replace some. But rather than give up and forget the elm, we think it's worth a try.”

For more information, visit www.conservationfoundation.co.uk.

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