A DEVASTATED elm expert has warned of a crisis amid a severe outbreak of Dutch elm disease.

Brighton’s 17,000 elms are at risk and the infection could wipe out thousands of historic trees if it is not brought under control.

Peter Bourne, volunteer curator at the national elm collection, said the city had been hit “worse than any other year”.

“The fact is, there’s no sign we’ve got this under control in Brighton,” he said.

“We’re rapidly trying to save elms with a small number of staff – but there are more elm bark beetles this year and the trees are dying rapidly.”

Mr Bourne explained the early arrival of hot weather this year had given the beetles which transmit the fungal disease a head start.

“The season began about two and a half weeks early,” he said. “Elm bark beetles need it to be about 20 degrees celcius before they take flight, and this year, they started emerging early.

“The disease has begun attacking the trees at a very high rate. Big trees are dying in days, where usually it would take weeks.”

Mr Bourne said there could be further trouble ahead “on our doorstep” in Brighton – including infected logs and trees in Adur District.

“This puts an enormous burden on our local population because some residents in this city may be bringing in the logs for their wood stoves which are almost guaranteed to be infected with Dutch elm disease and carrying elm bark beetles,” he said.

“This year is proving to be an extremely bad one for our elm population with several remarkable elms having to be felled. There have been numerous losses people will notice.”

Last year, one of the city’s two 400-year-old elms, known as the Twins, was felled in Preston Park after contracting Dutch elm disease. It was planted in the reign of James I.

Mr Bourne called for regulation to make it illegal to possess elm logs in the city and prevent log merchants selling them to people in Brighton. He also wants to see a service so if people do have elm logs at home, they can replace them for free.

He said he was “devastated” by the scale of the damage this year, and along with Brighton and Hove City Council, he is asking for help to spot infected trees. The council is calling on residents to acting as its “extra eyes”.

Councillor Anne Pissaridou said: “Elm disease is fairly easy to spot if you know the signs and what to look for.

“We’re asking you to become an extra pair of eyes and help flag up any trees – on both public and private land – you believe may be infected.

“We can then take immediate action to inspect the tree, and if infected, remove it and stop the disease spreading.

“Your swift action could help save the lives of many of our elm trees.”

Residents can also help by not buying elm logs or garden furniture made from elm wood.

If you suspect an elm tree is diseased, you can email ElmDisease@brighton-hove.gov.uk with a photograph of the tree, a close up of the symptoms and a precise location.

How to tell if a tree is diseased

• Symptoms start to show in early June, and the disease season lasts until September

• Early infection signs include wilting and browning or yellowing of foliage, or a tree losing its leaves in early summer while nearby elms are still full and healthy looking