Elm Disease

tree pruning at preston park

Brighton & Hove has been internationally renowned for its work to manage Elm Disease (PDF 314KB) since the 1970s. This has culminated in the city having the largest stock of Elm species, cultivars and varieties in Britain.

This has been recognised by Plant Heritage who awarded Brighton & Hove the status of holder of the National Elm Collection in 1998.

In continuing to combat elm disease, the city works closely with its neighbouring local authorities as part of a larger regime of control.

Look out for the elm disease management signs at the approaches to the city, located at:

  • Dyke Road Avenue - near by-pass roundabout          
  • King George VI Avenue - near by-pass roundabout          
  • A270 Old Shoreham Road - just west of St Louie Close          
  • A259 Fishersgate Terrace - just west of Brambledean Road          
  • A27 Shoreham by-pass - east of River Adur

How do we control elm disease?

Elm Disease beetles

To control elm disease, the Arboriculturists need to have a working knowledge of both the beetle and the fungus that spread the disease.

The control measures that are used each year are designed to limit the growth of the beetle population. Keeping the beetle numbers low has a direct effect on the number of trees that are infected.

Control of Elm disease is achieved by the following methods:

Sanitation felling

Sanitation felling is the removal and destruction of diseased trees. This prevents the timber acting as a breeding site for Elm bark beetles, which are the main cause of the spread of the Elm disease fungus.

Pruning out of infection

Where inspection reveals an infected tree with less than ten per cent of the leaf area showing symptoms, it is sometimes possible to isolate the disease by severing the limb which was infected.

root trenches

When the fungal spores enter the tree it triggers a response known as Tylosis, which appears in the timber as black streaks caused by this gum-like substance. This staining is used by the arborist to gauge the progress of the fungus through the branch and if the limb can be severed far enough (to where staining does not show), there is a high chance that the tree will be saved.

Root trenches

Elms, even those of differing varieties, have the ability to make root unions, ie connect their root systems. In the event of an infection to the upper part of the tree, the fungal spores can travel down the tree's system into the roots and (via the root union) into other trees. To isolate an infected tree and to prevent its neighbours from being infected, it may be possible to physically break the root unions between such trees, which can be an extremely effective method of control.

Trunk girdling

Where it is not possible to use heavy machinery to prevent infection via the roots, trunk girdling can be used. This is dependent on an inspection revealing that the fungus has not reached the root system of the tree.

tree girdling

If this is the case, a chainsaw or axe is used to sever the bark of at least the previous two years' growth around the complete circumference of the tree's trunk, thus isolating the fungus in the timber above the girdle. This technique is very effective and gives a slightly longer period to arrange felling of the tree. 

Specialist burning site

To prevent the likelihood of Elm timber being illegally disposed of in places where it could be colonised as a breeding site for Elm bark beetles, the council has a burning site licensed by the Environment Agency which is situated in an area of low Elm density.

The council's CityParks team use the site to dispose of all Elm material that is not chipped or re-sold and this forms a major part of the control programme.

A number of local contractors subscribe to the use of the facility and contractors from outside the area, who are working on local Elms, may also have free use of it on a one-off basis.

How you can help

The success of the Elm disease control programme is dependent on many factors and not all are technical. You can play your part in saving the local Elms by:

Please email us on arboriculture@brighton-hove.gov.uk to report any:

  • tree that has leaves turning from green to yellow or brown or having a scorched look during the spring. 
  • dead trees at any time of year
  • unhealthy trees in your own garden. If these prove to be Elm trees, all necessary work will be carried out by the council at no cost to you.

We'd also ask you not to buy any logs for winter fuel if the supplier cannot guarantee that the wood isn't Elm and not to bring any Elm timber into the city for use as garden ornaments, seating, etc. 

If you have already bought logs and are uncertain what they are, we would be happy to inspect them. In the wood is Elm, we will dispose of it and give you a similar quantity free of charge.