A fresh outbreak of the deadly Dutch Elm Disease is threatening to wipe out the city's national collection of the endangered trees.

Five elms riddled with the disease are set to be felled while further “sporadic outbreaks” across Brighton and Hove continue to be monitored.

The disease, which is spread by the elm bark beetle, wiped out some 25 million elms across the UK in the 20th century.

But thanks to the protection offered by the South Downs and English Channel and the skill of local arboriculturists, many of the city's trees survived.

Brighton and Hove is now home to the only substantial collection of the species in the country and as a result was awarded national collection status in the 1990s.

However, the remaining 17,000 elms are now under threat following the fresh outbreak.

Four diseased trees in the Old Steine Gardens are set to be destroyed next week.

A further diseased elm has also already been felled on the University of Sussex's Falmer Campus.

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Brighton and Hove City Council environment committee chairman, Pete West, described the outbreak as “extremely worrying”.

He said: “It is more than likely down to imported fuel logs or an elm tree that is already infected by elm bark beetles which carry the fungus.”

“We implore local residents and businesses to contact our parks department immediately if they suspect they have elm timber as logs or a suspect elm tree on their property.

“This is urgent.”

The 25 metre-high elm which was felled on the Falmer Campus is thought to have been around 150-years-old.

Andy Jupp, the university's assistant director of estates and facilities management, said: “It's a real shame but prompt action to destroy infected trees is the only way to limit the spread of this devastating fungal disease.

“The fact that many excellent specimens survive on campus - including some of the largest English elms remaining in the UK - is largely due to the assiduous efforts of estates staff over the last 40 years to remove any infected trees as soon as they show symptoms of the disease.

“In the long term our actions this week will help to protect the other elms on campus.”

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Dr Martyn Stenning, an environmental biologist at the university, explained that the wet, dry weather had produced the perfect conditions for both fungi and insects - which spread the disease.

He added that common symptoms to look out for include the yellowing and then browning of leaves in the summer.

Confirmation of the disease can then be sought by peeling back the bark. Infected trees will have dark brown or purple streaks in the outer wood.

Council arboriculturalist, Neil Brothers, confirmed that they were encountering “sporadic outbreaks” but added that it was too early to say how serious the problem is.

Anyone who suspects they have trees with Dutch Elm disease should contact the council immediately on (01273) 292929 or by email at Arboriculture@brighton-hove.gov.uk.

For more details visit brighton-hove.gov.uk/elmdisease.

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