KECP Gallery

KECP Gallery

The Kentish Elm Conservation Programme (KECP) operated from 2000 to 2003 with the objective of reducing disease pressure on the surviving stands of narrow-leaved field elms (U. minor var. minor) in East and North Kent, using methods approved by Forest Research.   Its budget, based on a three year English Nature grant and matched funding from the pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer, was less than £10,000 in total over the entire period. The aim was to prune disease out of mature trees when necessary, and to clear all breeding sites (diseased and recently killed elm saplings) from the hedgerows around them. The KECP ultimately managed elm disease across 10,000 acres between Sittingbourne and Faversham, all initially surveyed and then continuously monitored on foot. In the east of the county, work was confined to individual stands of mature elm.

As an exit strategy, the Programme hoped to bring the ongoing maintenance of the control zone within the Government’s existing Farm Stewardship scheme, but the scheme’s local management declared itself unable to co-operate. The KECP’s funding ceased in 2003.

Amongst the dozens of landowners approached by the KECP for permission to work on their land only one refused, and that was on the basis that he would do the necessary work himself.

1a Two teams working together near the Stone Chapel, Faversham, April 2001. This was a highly effective combination of skilled tree surgery and mechanisation, but cost the KECP £500 a day.

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1b Every day’s operations had to centre on an approved burning site, and to produce sufficient arisings to create a fire fierce enough to burn green timber.

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2a This stand of 100 foot elms at Tonge Mill east of Sittingbourne came closer than most to recalling the glory of the English lowlands before elm disease. The very narrow crowns and pendulous foliage resemble the elusive Plot elm of the East Midlands, but the leaf shape is entirely dissimilar. The trees still survive.

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2b The Tonge trees on the medieval mound of Tonge Castle, dominating the mill. It was the first appearance of disease in this stand (observed from the railway immediately behind) that prompted me to set up the KECP. It seemed certain that nobody else was going to do anything about it.

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2c A view of the Tonge elms from the west; 1987 storm damage is apparent to the right and centre of the photo.

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3a I surveyed this storm-damaged group of elms at Woodstreet House near Rodmersham many times, but there were rarely any symptoms of disease even in the younger trees. I was allowed to gather cherries from the old orchard behind the elms.

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3b The base of a tree either at Tonge or Woodstreet (I forget which). The knapsack gives the scale. Notice the stringy character of the bark, and compare with photo 4b.

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4a Ancient spars of elms at Provender Farm near Faversham on a hot day in early May 2001. These, like so many other elms in Kent, had been mangled by the great storm of 1987.

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4b The massive base of one of the Provender trees. The bark is scaly rather than stringy (compare photo 3b), and quite close to the chainmail bark found on the Isle of Thanet.

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4c The first spring leaves surrounding this trunk at Provender give no hint that the tree is virtually moribund. Only a few shards of ancient elm now remain on this site, though the younger trees make good progress.

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4d A young tree at Provender shows signs of recovery after a serious attack of elm disease some two seasons previously. This ability to recover from elm disease can be seen in a few stands centring on the Provender and Syndale valleys, and occasionally to the east of Canterbury.

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5. The bottom of the Syndale Valley near Ospringe. In the foreground, young elms similar to the Provender type (now checked by disease, but apparently stable). In the background, the grove of elms by the Stone Chapel. Most remain, though the Stone Chapel trees suffered some storm damage in 2013.

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6a In Sittingbourne and Faversham’s urban green spaces, a handful of geographically isolated trees of Huntingdon (x vegeta) type could still be found in 2000. A few, like this one at the Minterne schools in the south of Sittingbourne, were completely unaffected by disease.

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6b Others, such as this, had reached the limits of their endurance.

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7a One small part of an important stand of elms at Upper Garrington Farm near Bekesbourne, East Kent. They have the appearance of a very rustic form of Jersey Elm, and almost certainly reached here from Northern France. On mentioning this to a local conservationist I was asked whether it was worth spending money on their preservation, since they were not native trees.

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7b Another detail of the Upper Garrington trees. The trained eye will spot not only the flagging of the crown at the right of the shot but some three other areas of concern. Not all proved to be directly disease-related.

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7c The northern area of Upper Garrington in early May. On the left, a corner of the chaos of wind-blown Linces Wood. The big tree may at this time have been the largest narrow-leaved elm in the county. At the centre of the photo is a different strain of U. minor, marked by very late leafing, heavy seeding, and freedom from disease. This site, like Syndale/Provender, deserves to be an SSSI for its elm populations.

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8a Lord Hawarden’s elm near Wingham Well in autumn 2000. Around 2003 the disease which had afflicted some of its suckers overtook it, and it was nearly defoliated. It continues to leaf 10 years later, substantially unchanged.

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8b An ancient tree near Littlebourne, East Kent, showing early autumn colouring due to disease and generally reduced sap-flow. However, it remained in this state for some 20 years. The suckers fared worse.

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9a Two major constituents of a mini elmscape at Hode Farm, immediately east of Canterbury. The tree beyond and the storm-wrecked shard are also elm. On a close inspection of the trunks, it will be seen that the 1987 storm was not the first to sculpt these trees.

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9b The same trees photographed on a thirsty walk from Canterbury to Wingham in high summer. Disease is clearly present, but hardly detracts from this image of the East Kent countryside as parts of it used to be.

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9c The wind continues to tease this monumental survivor at Hode Farm. On a later visit, I found that its lower branches had been lopped off, cut up, and stacked around it. There, clear to see, were the exit holes of the scolytus beetles which had bred in the dying wood over winter, and flown up to re-infect the crown.

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10a A young tree on the borders of Thanet, showing the broad branch crotches and amorphous growth typical of the strain of narrow-leaved elm in this area. Late leafing encourages the ivy. The narrow-leaved elms elsewhere in Kent have rigidly straight branches growing at regular angles off a straight or weaving trunk.

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10b Grinsells Hill leading from Minster to Cliffs End, sheltered by wind-sculpted elms for much of its length.   Virtually all the trees visible in this photo are elms.

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10c Further along Grinsells Hill, towards Sevenscore.   No less than 10% of the total Thanet elm population is estimated to have survived into the 21st century. The branching suggests the effect of winds off the North Sea, but note that it does not affect the tall elms at Sevenscore.

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10d A pastoral landscape north of Minster on a cold spring afternoon with North Sea mist coming and going. The trees’ compact crowns reflect the persistent wind and the salt in it.

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10e The outskirts of Minster in Thanet. The old ivy-covered elms have now gone as have most of the rest, but in this photo they give the scene a rustic quality once so ordinary that few imagined it was worth recording.

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10f A complex grouping of elms between Cliffs End and Ramsgate growing within a stone’s throw of Pegwell Bay, demonstrating the trade-offs of full marine exposure. Massive road improvements in recent years have torn this spot apart.

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10g Sevenscore. The winter form of these fine trees doesn’t show it, but they were already beyond all help when this photo was taken. They were felled some years ago.

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11a Great Tickenhurst Farm in East Kent, the frost just lifting. It wasn’t easy to know where to start on the conservation of trees in this storm-damaged state, but I did the most obvious work and the owners met half the cost.

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11b On the road north of Tonge. Every recent stub or dying branch was a potential source of new infection. I could afford neither the funds nor the time to polish this stand, the narrow lane was in constant use, and there were far more serious pockets of disease in English elm regrowth nearby.

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12 A long way north of Tonge where the road runs out. After a (bad) day’s re-surveying, it was a relief in the mid afternoon to find a treeless landscape. On the far shore of the Swale is Elmley Island, devoid of elms. The ribs of the abandoned barge will be gone before its elm keel splits.