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Big Interview: arboculturalist for Brighton and Hove City Council Neil Brothers
1:00pm Sunday 11th August 2013 in News
Eevery week The Argus will be grilling someone who has appeared in the news in the Big Interview feature.
This week we talk to Neil Brothers, arboriculturalist for Brighton and Hove City Council, on the fight to protect our historic elm tree collection.
What can people do to stop the spread of Dutch elm disease?
The most useful thing that people can do is to be aware of the symptoms of Dutch elm disease and report them on 01273 292929, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the council website.
The symptoms to look out for are sudden wilting or yellowing of the foliage with the leaves shortly falling off, ultimately leading to the death of the branch or entire tree.
If you purchase logs for your fire ask your supplier about the species of tree used for the logs.
Ensure that no elm is delivered to you or stored in your garden as the bark can harbour the elm beetle.
If you prune elm trees in your garden ensure the prunings are disposed of in the proper manner i.e. by arranging for removal by a local tree surgeon who can chip the branches or by taking it yourself to the authorised disposal site at Waterhall – access for which may be obtained by calling 01273 292929 and asking for the Arboriculture office.
It is not advisable to prune elms during the elm disease season (June to September) as freshly cut elm attracts the beetle.
Is it really too late for the trees in the East Sussex control zone?
Anthony Becvar, Dutch elm disease officer for East Sussex County Council, says: “In early 2013 East Sussex County Council had a report drawn up from a modelling project funded by DEFRA.
It showed that by felling trees which can and will become a breeding habitat for beetles during that year as a priority rather than new aerial infections, in 25 years’ time we are likely to end up with a mature elm population equivalent or possibly higher than we currently have.
We are currently felling about 2.5% of the total elm population annually, so are only scratching the surface of the population.
Unlike Eastbourne and Brighton and Hove, the majority of East Sussex County Council's control zone elms are sited in rural locations, and as such are able to multiply naturally, which means that potentially we are dealing with an ever growing population.
Why should people care about protecting the elm trees?
Brighton holds the national elm collection and the elm population in Brighton and Hove is one of the most diverse in Europe.
This is an important national and international heritage that we have a responsibility to ensure passes in good health to future generations.
Elms constitute a third of the street trees in the city and their loss would make a dramatic impact on our street scene.
Their loss would be catastrophic and take many years to replace.
Native elm is also the major food plant for the endangered white-letter hairstreak butterfly.
The city is working with the charity Butterfly Conservation to see if management of the city’s elms will promote breeding for the butterfly.
Retaining the elms here in Brighton and Hove provides an opportunity for visitors to see what the rest of the country has lost.
Many people are too young to remember the elms as they were and you have to look at paintings by Turner or Constable to get a hint of their majesty in the landscape.
How serious is the threat to the city’s elms?
Provided that the City is vigilant and maintains its very successful control programme then we foresee the present population of elms can be maintained.
How much is it going to cost taxpayers over the next ten years to keep the elms safe? Is it worth it?
We have a fixed cost of an elm Inspector during the height of the Dutch elm disease season. The overall cost of the Dutch elm disease programme varies from year to year according to the severity of the outbreak.
Last year we spent £75k on controlling the Dutch elm disease outbreak in the whole of the city.
To stop funding care of our elm collection would in turn cost the council millions of pounds to remove the infected trees as they become dead and unsafe, plus further costs in replanting.
This is always going to be a problem. Why don’t we just let nature take over? Should we really be interfering?
If we let nature take over then the elm would virtually disappear from our treescape as a result of this disease that was introduced to this country by man.
We don’t see this as interfering rather giving Mother Nature a helping hand by giving her time to establish a natural balance with the disease.
We plant an average of 284 trees in a year, 89 of which are of the ulmus species.
Should there be more education around tree conservation?
Trees form such an integral part of our everyday life that most people take them for granted and don’t realise just how fragile a tree population can become.
Education, not just for children, but for all residents about this particular problem will stimulate interest and commitment to maintaining the treescape of the city.
The council has lots of information on its website about the national elm collection in the city, where to find elms, how to recognise an elm tree and a leaflet on elm disease.
This can be found at www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/trees
What plans are in place for a mass outbreak in the city?
We are not anticipating a major outbreak.
However should one occur then plans are in place to call on all the resource of City Parks and City Clean in identifying diseased trees and helping with their removal.
We are also able to call in the resources of private contractors to support the team efforts.
Do the beetles pose a threat to other species of tree The large and small European elm bark beetle only breeds and feeds within members of the family ulmaceae.
There is no record of breeding or feeding in any other species of tree.
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