NETWORK Rail could be responsible for the death of one of the world’s two oldest English elms.

Last month Brighton learnt that one of the city’s two 400-year-old elm trees, known as The Twins, would be chopped down after contracting Dutch Elm disease. It was planted in the reign of James I.

Volunteer curator at the national elm collection Peter Bourne said Network Rail’s contractors could be to blame after they failed to remove logs along the tracks infected with the deadly disease.

Mr Bourne said that Network Rail and its contractors were “allowing elm bark beetles to run amuck and spread Dutch elm disease around the area, killing our precious elms.”

He was “horrified” to find a pile of timber at the side of a railway line in Moulsecoomb on Tuesday “clearly showing signs of Dutch Elm disease.”

The infection all but wiped out Britain’s elm population in the 1970s.

Mr Bourne said he saw and reported another pile of diseased elm logs beside the tracks earlier that day, and had been assured in the past that cut logs along the line would be removed.

He said: “I’m sure it’s no coincidence that Network Rail has felled loads of trees along the main line to London in the last few years and that we are now losing lots of precious elms in this area, including one of the twins in Preston Park.

“The tiny beetles carrying the disease are about the size of a grain of rice. But it only takes one or two from a pile of cut logs to spread the infection over a wide area.

“Beside a railway line, they are a particular danger: the beetles have actually been shown to transmit the disease by getting on board trains.”

He said: “The insects fly off from heaps of logs like this spreading the deadly Dutch elm disease to neighbouring trees in gardens and parks.

Mr Bourne’s assessment was put to Network Rail. A spokesman said: “Vegetation management is an essential part of railway maintenance and this work is crucial to keeping both trains and passengers safe on the network.

“We are aware of the national elm collection in Brighton and the importance of maintaining it. We continue to work alongside stakeholders including Brighton and Hove Council to minimise the impact of our vegetation management on the environment, while ensuring the continued safe operation of the railway.”

But Mr Bourne said: “Our county is a sanctuary for the elms. It’s one of the last bastions of the English elm population. It’s a living museum.

“It’s all very well Network Rail saying this, but it means nothing if the work isn’t being done.”