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1975: Dutch elm disease 'such a tragedy'

It was a disease that changed the face of the English countryside.

Dutch elm disease is a fungal illness spread by a bark beetle and first made its appearance in the UK in the 1920s in a mild form.

A more virulent strain emerged in the late 1960s, brought to Britain with a shipment of logs from North America. By the mid 1970s millions of elm trees had died.

Now very few mature elms remain in Northern Europe.

Your memories:

Dutch Elm disease is not a plague of the past. The photograph, right, was taken from my window in Aberdeenshire less than two weeks ago on the night before the tree surgeons came to chop down and remove this and two other Elms in our neighbourhood.

Two years ago this was a beautiful, healthy and flourishing Wytch Elm and now it is gone - very sad. Some think it is due to global warming that the disease is spreading north - the beetle apparently needs warmth to fly from tree to tree.
Steve Hall, UK

I was only six or seven when Dutch Elm Disease came along. We had a large wood near our home and we used to go and play there regularly.

One day, as we walked down the lane through the wood, I noticed that on each side of the lane nearly every tree had a large X painted on it. I asked my older sister what this meant, and she solemnly told me that the trees had Bubonic Plague.

I didn't know the bit about rats and fleas at the time, although I did remember the stuff about people putting crosses on their doors and bringing out the dead, so I spent the rest of the week terrified I was going to start sneezing and die.

Fortunately my sister let slip what she had said to me, so my parents could explain what was really going on.
Zoe, England

I vividly remember the dying off of the elms. We lived in the country and I remember how after I was 11 the elms essentially disappeared.

In particular, there was a big hotel known as 'The Elms', but, after 1975, no elms. I now live in Canada - where the disease originated - and own 50 acres of wooded land.

It is a pleasure and a surprise to see elms coming back - I don't have too many, but they look pretty healthy.
John Brownlow, Canada

The single greatest natural disaster to befall Waverly, my small, upstate New York community was the Dutch Elm Disease infestation.

Streets in my town were like cool, green tunnels as we rode our bikes and strolled as kids. The vast holes in the canopy are still visible reminders of the graceful green giants that used to grace the village.

Sadly, people younger than 50 haven't a clue as to what has disappeared. Fast growing hybrid Poplars were planted in the Elms place. How sad.
Don Montgomery, USA

I was only a child at the time, but I remember my grandfather, a proud Yorkshireman, swearing by elm as "the best for the open fire - nowt burned like it".
Wayne Charlton, Netherlands

I was only 11. A local churchyard had a row of elm trees which had caught the dreaded Dutch Elm Disease.

My older brother (12 years my senior) was put in charge of cutting them down before they fell down. I stood there with a rope around my waist, ready to pull the tree my brother was sawing through when suddenly he jumped away from the tree.

Without warning, the tall tree keeled over and some of the smaller branches knocked me off my feet. I was out cold for about five minutes. Apparently about a third of the tree trunk had rotted away.
Les Read, Scotland

I was due to start senior school after that summer, and so the summer holidays were full of that. I didn't notice that the countryside I lived in was starting to change, not until the next village lost it's landmark elm tree.

Our Girl Guide Company used to march past for church parades, we drove past to visit grandparents at the weekends, and rode our bikes past to see friends.

Suddenly this mighty old tree had to be felled as it had died away, and had become unsafe.

There's an oak tree there now, that has reached a good size, but seeing old photos in the village pub next door made me realise that the elm tree was bigger, and it wasn't just that we were smaller!
Claire, Leicestershire, UK

I remember this catastrophe well.

All along Beavers Lane, Hounslow, Middlesex, used to be a line of elm trees. They were all destroyed by this beetle, plus two big old elms that used to be at the roundabout of the A30 and the A4 (Henleys).

They were truly massive, and like the rest had to be cut down.

It was such a tragedy. It will take centuries to recover.
Ian Temple, UK

This tree (pictured right) is about 70 years old and is the last one on my street - West Granton Road in Edinburgh.

There were two others but sadly they have died.

At night time a few bats fly round this and catch the moths etc. Also a couple of crows return every year and nest there. Chicks fall out as well.

This year I also saw a grey squirrel up the tree get short shift from the crows' parents.
David Marshall, Scotland

As a little boy I saw all of the stately elm trees die, one by one, in Jacksonville, Illinois, once called the "Elm City."
Stephen Garfield, Sri Lanka

I remember when the council came to cut down the old tree in our back garden. Such a shame.
Dale Gilbert, UK

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How to identify and manage Dutch elm disease
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