MOST people under the age of 40 will never have seen a beautiful landscape made up of elm trees.
That’s because the fungal outbreak Dutch elm disease wiped out the vast majority of the species across the country in the 1970s.
Now, an ambitious bid has begun to reintroduce the English elm to the areas around Chichester Harbour.
Staff and volunteers from Chichester Harbour Conservancy have planted 12 saplings in various locations, including Hayling Island, Thorney Island, Bosham, Chidham, Cobnor, West Wittering and Itchenor. It is hoped they will be resistant to the disease.
The saplings were grown in the garden of elm enthusiast Richard Smith, of Midhurst.
He took cuttings from the handful of mature elms that have survived in the region – which, for reasons not fully understood, are often located in churchyards.
Nicky Horton, the conservancy’s countryside officer, said there were no mature elms left in the Chichester Harbour area.
‘When the young trees get to five years old, as soon as they are big enough, they are attacked by the disease,’ she explained. If you find any now they will be growing in hedgerows. They never get to grow into mature trees.
‘Hopefully by getting some resistant varieties we will be able to reintroduce these iconic trees. They’re huge. They grow to 100ft and are missing from our landscape.’
The conservancy is still not fully certain if the saplings will be attacked by the disease.
But it is hoped something in the DNA from the mature elms that have survived may make them immune.
Nicky added: ‘This is a bit of experiment.
‘The ones we have got, we don’t know if their resistance is a fluke or if there is some inherent disease resistance.
‘If they get over the critical stage of five to 10 years then they have a really good chance.’
The project also heralds hope for the white-letter hairstreak butterfly, which relies on the elm for food.
Volunteers will care for the trees over the next few years and record height, girth and any signs of disease.