It has long been one of the objectives of ResistantElms.co.uk to establish elm trials in this country for the purposes of monitoring and rigorously comparing the performance of the new elm cultivars, and in order to test other elms for actual disease resistance.
A major step forwards was taken toward the first of these goals in the spring of 2015, thanks to the co-operation and vision of the Lees Court Estate near Faversham, Kent.
Under the stewardship of the Countess Sondes, the Lees Court Estate has become a standard-bearer for agricultural innovation, sustainability, conservation, and support for the rural economy. I was therefore delighted when the Estate confirmed that a partnership with ResistantElms.co.uk would fit well with its existing initiatives, and offered land for the setting-up of an elm adaptation trial.
The trial, located on a typical downland soil over chalk, was planted in February 2015 in consultation with Steve McCarthy of Woodland Management England. It is modelled on the elm adaptation trial managed by the Istituto per la Protezione delle Piante in Castellaccio, Umbria (Italy), and currently consists of 6 clones (six plants of each) set out on a 5 x 5 metre grid. The clones are FL 493, FL 506, FL 462, San Zanobi, Morfeo and Patriot. The Italian trees were generously donated by Professor Alberto Santini of the Florentine breeding programme. Patriot was supplied by ResistantElms.co.uk. It is hoped to add the two most promising of the resistant Spanish U. minor clones (Ademuz and Dehesa de Amaniel) to the trial when they become available.
Once the trees have settled, all aspects of their performance will be monitored and compared over a period of approximately three years.
This is believed to be the first formal elm adaptation trial to take place in this country, although that is absolutely not to detract from the important and highly influential elm collection curated by Butterfly Conservation at Great Fontley Farm, Hampshire.
Following the successful establishment of the adaptation trial, the Lees Court estate kindly agreed to extend its co-operation with ResistantElms.co.uk to undertake two mid-term timber trials, featuring some 40 plants each of the Dutch/French “Vada”, and the Italian “Fiorente”.
Vada is a narrow, fairly vigorous and very resistant plant which is notable for the extreme toughness of its wood. Fiorente is a strongly upright tree which has been developed by the Italians specifically for timber production (its disease resistance is not in fact optimal). Vada was supplied by Pepinieres Minier. Fiorente was donated by Professor Alberto Santini.
The aim of these trials is to find out whether either of the two cultivars is suitable for the fast production of straight, high-quality elm timber. A particular need for elm seems to exist in areas of traditional boat building, particularly where the racing rules for certain craft require the use of elm in their construction.
The Animal and Plant Health Authority (APHA) carried out a phytosanitary inspection of all plants in these trials, and commended the Estate’s proactive invitation to do so as best practice.
As stated elsewhere on this website, an elm cannot be described as disease-resistant unless it has survived inoculation with the pathogen and displayed limited symptoms of wilt and die-back. The elms obtained from the overseas breeding programmes have of course successfully undergone this procedure. With (a) production of new clones by recent hybridisation in this country, and (b) the continued discovery of wild clones which appear to display field resistance, the need for formal inoculation testing to be set up here is clear.
A trial for the first of the two purposes mentioned above is likely to begin in 2018-19. Discussions are currently underway to find a suitable site; early indications are that it may well be in mid-Kent. The second trial is likely to take place on privately owned land in North Essex. The propagation of stock for inclusion, together with control plants, began in spring 2015.