The elm is dead! Long live the elm! New developments for elm conservation in Scotland

Euan Bowditch, Elspeth Macdonald

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Elm species across the world have been ravaged by Dutch elm disease (DED) and there seems to be general pessimism about the ecological and economic contributions of the elm, and ultimately its survival. Some optimism exists, however, about the potential for selective breeding of elm that demonstrates resistance to DED. In the spirit of thinking globally and acting locally, this paper builds upon prior proposals for a wych elm (Ulmus glabra) conservation strategy for Scotland. A new analysis of the (macro) distribution of elm across Scotland is presented and the need for more information about the (micro) distribution of the species and its genetic structure, within both infected and disease-free woodland, is highlighted. This will help researchers define and understand the ecological positioning of the species and its restoration potential if reliable DED-resistant planting stock becomes available. Clonal material from trees which have survived DED will figure prominently in breeding programmes, but refuge areas may be required to supply clones with other distinctive adaptive traits and genetic variation. Sequencing the elm genome will play a crucial role in understanding
variation, and identifying adaptive traits that can aid DED resistance. A survey of
environmental professionals found that many underestimate the extent of the
surviving elm resource in Scotland. At the same time, elm was viewed as an important native woodland species for biodiversity, structure, amenity and timber which is thought to be worth restoring on a landscape scale.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-38
Number of pages11
JournalScottish Forestry
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2021


  • elm
  • ulmus
  • dutch elm disease
  • Scotland
  • Restoration
  • Conservation
  • Forest
  • Tree
  • Landscape
  • forest health
  • tree health


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