A STRAIN of elm resistant to disease is being bred in the hope of re-planting southern counties with the tree 20 years after more than 20 million were lost to Dutch elm disease.
Pockets of trees that survived in Cambridgeshire are now being propagated by Cambridge University botanists. They believe that the smooth-leaved elm in East Anglia is not quite as susceptible to the disease as the ordinary English elm.
About 200 saplings will be planted around the county in a pilot scheme to see if they can be re-established as healthy trees. Forestry experts believe these elms may be resistant to the disease and the landscape of southern Britain could slowly be put back to normal if the scheme is successful.
Paul Bullimore, countryside officer at Cambridgeshire County Council, said: 'Sadly, as in so many other areas, elms in Cambridgeshire have been ravaged by the disease. However, we have found small pockets of trees which appear to be unaffected while all the trees around them have died.
'If we can show that these stronger, mature trees are different and more resistant to the disease, then Cambridgeshire could pioneer the return of the elm to the countryside.
'It is an experimental scheme, but these trees survived while those around died from the disease, so they must have some special properties. The hope is obviously to see the return of the elm tree.'
Dutch elm disease is spread by bark-loving beetles which transfer the fungus between trees, causing them to wilt and die.