the East Anglian Elm, the narrow leaved elm, Ulmus minor, or carpinifolia, the smooth-leaved elm; it has many names, and almost every village or wood a slightly different variety, but sadly nowadays you are more likely to see dead trees than living, or at most young sucker growths.

the latest, most virulent episode of Dutch Elm disease started in the south west in the 60’s and progressed across England over the next twenty years, so that now we have almost forgotten what the landscape looked like with big elm trees. in the 90’s another wave of the disease arrived; the survivors are mostly small trees, suckers growing up from the roots of the dead trees, which are hit in their turn by a new outbreak.

there is a corner of Bale wood where they survive, growing to a certain size, until the beetle introduces the deadly fungus which will kill in a year. Elm trees rarely propagate by seed, so they can only spread gradually from an original tree by suckering, but in time can invade a wood. here they die, regenerate, and die again, but never completely. eventually the fungus seems to burn itself out, perhaps attacked in its turn by a virus.

young growth stands next to the dead hulks along the edge of the wood

and groups of clones cluster together inside

one big live tree seems to be thriving

though its top looks a little thin.

a group of dead clones collapsed on the woodland floor, opening up a clearing. everywhere dead trees lean and sprawl amongst the living. this part of the wood seems to have an equal distribution of elm and ash, with a few hazel, sycamore and pine amongst them. there are patches of primrose and violets grow with ground ivy all over in the spring.

outside, on the border of the field there seem to be the remnants of a hedge; elder have mostly died but there are blackthorn and hawthorn and bramble. there is also a marked browse line. I have come across roe deer feeding here.

one fairly big Ulmus minor growing on the edge of the wood.

elms have suffered from outbreaks of this beetle-born disease through history. documentary and tree ring evidence shows a mysterious death of elms from 1819 until the 1860’s, and probably in the 1500’s. Oliver Rackham (the History of the Countryside, latest edition 2000, pages 243 – 246) proposes that the prehistoric Elm Decline, which occurred at about 5,000 to 5,500 years ago, around about when early agriculture arrived, was caused by the disease rather than man’s interference.

pollen deposits show how after the ice sheets melted, woodland reasserted itself across Britain rapidly between 9,000 and 7,000 years ago. at first birch, aspen and sallow replaced the grasses and heathers ofย  the immediate post-glacial tundras and moorlands, then pine and hazel, followed by oak and alder, next mostly in the south,ย  lime and elm, then holly, ash, and the last to arrive , beech, hornbeam and maple. between 7,000 and 4,500 years ago climax wildwood types adapted to climate and soil; in Norfolk there were at least seven local types, including limewood, ashwood and elmwood. Native elms include Wych Elm and the East Anglian Elm, found in the pollen profile (Bennet, K.D. ‘Devensian Late-Glacial and Flandrian vegetational history at Hockham Mere, Norfolk, England’ New Phytologist 95 (1983) 457-487), but not the English Elm, a later arrival, possibly introduced by humans, or a hybrid of the earlier two types.

more elms can be seen in Clip Street, behind an old flint wall which encloses the remnants of an orchard with two huge walnut trees and a mature lime. this is where the electricity cable from the North Sea wind farms is proposed to be laid. if so we will lose all these beautiful trees.