The Stroud Elms

At about this time last year I found some seeds in a stream. I thought I recognised them, but having not seen them outside of a book before, wasn’t sure. On further checking it became evident that I had found evidence of a wych elm. This year I’ve found perhaps a dozen of them, some close to where I live. This year they have all seeded, last year they didn’t, and the fine green snow of their early summer seeds, fills me with awe. Because by all accounts, this is an unlikely state of affairs.

The British elms are gone, destroyed by Dutch elm disease before I was born. The Forestry Commission reckons some 60 million trees were wiped out in two epidemics, in the 1920s (my grandmother’s childhood) and 1970s (I caught the tail end). She talked of beautiful, stately trees, destroyed forever. I wonder with hindsight if this gentle haunting by the ghosts of departed trees shaped my love of lost thing. Lost forests. Lost mammals (aurochs especially). I have a heightened sense of the fragility of life, the ease with which something precious can be lost. Perhaps that’s entirely down to my grandmother mourning the elms.

To find elm seeds in a stream in 2014 was a magical, unreal sort of moment for me. The people with me on that day did not believe what I thought I’d found because they, like me, thought the elms to be gone. There is a little part of me that just plain refuses to see ‘lost’ as ‘gone forever’ and sometimes that holds true. There’s Project Tauros, using DNA from an auroch tooth to figure out a breeding program. Aurochs are not entirely gone, their DNA remains in domesticated large hairy cattle, and something a bit like them could yet come back.

The elms are not gone forever. There are elms in Stroud.

At the moment, humans are destroying habitats and species at an obscene rate. This, simply, has to stop. There are so many precious and beautiful things hanging on at the edges. It is a wonder that they can and do hang on, and make comebacks and refuse to be driven into history, but we should not count on their tenacity alone to solve the problems we create.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

8 responses to “The Stroud Elms

  • Naomi Jacobs

    Wow! Do you have any photos of the seedlings?

  • Sheila North

    I believe there is a lone, half-dead wych elm in Hyde Park cemetery, Doncaster, not far from my home. The plan is for it to come down, because it’s half dead. But, that means it’s half alive, doesn’t it?

    I believe there are also a few elms in the cemetery: some of the few surviving in our town. I’m told the reason they still live, is that they were somewhat separate from the other, now dead elms.

    The aurochs! I associate them with the “Ur” rune, and strength.

  • Aurora J Stone

    Some of our kin refuse to give up. They need us to help them fight back. Little steps small seeds, wee seedlings . . . they have to begin somewhere.
    I too look forward to the photos.

  • lornasmithers

    How exciting and hopeful. Any idea where the seeds came from?

    • Nimue Brown

      We seem to have a good dozen or so trees seeding this year. Where those trees came from is anyone’s guess. I wonder if the narrow valleys have to some degree put off the beetles – who like to fly at a certain height, so maybe didn’t get down into the narrow valleys around Stroud so much. or maybe these trees came from seeds that were in the soil during the last epidemics, I don’t know. The trees themselves are quite tall but slender, they could have grown up since the 70s.

  • treegod

    There are big elm trees in Brighton and Hove, protected by the English Channel on one side, the South Downs on the other (altitude too high) and restrictions on the movement of wood by the city’s council. On my way to school I used to pass big ones down Elm Drive, too big for me to pass my hands round them.

    It’s affected Spain too. I live now in a valley with a spring called La Font de l’Om (the Elm Spring). There’s only a few I know of in the valley, but either they are too isolated to attract the beetle that carries the disease or, as I suspect, their altitude is too high for the beetle to reach, since they are located much higher than the highest point of the South Downs!

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