It is a sad fact that Dutch Elm disease (Ophiostoma novo-ulmi) introduced to the UK in the 1960s, is still causing the removal of around 1,000 Elms in Edinburgh each year.  Despite decades of research, there is still no known effective way of preventing the movement of the Elm Bark Beetles (Scolytus scolytus). Edinburgh has lost around 30,000 Elms to the disease over the years.

Elms in Edinburgh

Each summer, Edinburgh Council carries out tree inspections of Edinburgh’s Elms; both public and private trees.  If a tree is suspected of being infected, the owner is informed that they must remove the tree before the end of March.  This is because the young beetles emerge from under the bark in early summer, when they will fly to – and infect – other Elms.  Removing the tree within the pupation phase is therefore essential in stopping the spread of the disease.

Private Trees

According to an article in Edinburgh Evening News on 11th January 2016, a large proportion of private owners failed to comply with orders to remove infected Elms.  Around 500 Elms were due for removal, with 73 orders not being complied with (about 15%).  It is understandable that some owners may not have the funds to pay for having their tree removed, however the wider picture is that one infected Elm tree could infect dozens more; the future of Edinburgh’s Elms is at stake and the cost of removing an infected tree should be balanced with the gloomy prospect of the city without these fabulous trees.

Legislative Powers

This year, the council has decided to use legislation, namely  ‘The Dutch elm disease (Local Authorities) Order 1984‘ and the 1988 amendment to allow council tree surgeons to enter private land and remove the infected Elms belonging to owners who have not complied with their removal order.  The council has the power to charge the tree owner for this work.  However, by the time the council has got round to all 73 trees, it may be too late to stop the beetles flying and infecting more trees.  As the owners will likely end up paying for the work anyway, they should really take the order seriously; the future of Edinburgh’s natural landscape is still threatened, and the power to reduce the spread of Dutch Elm disease is in tree owners’ hands.