Yorkshire tree that survived Dutch Elm disease and was saved from council axe up for top prize
A rare survivor since Dutch Elm disease ravaged the species, it was saved a second time when campaigners prevented its felling, along with hundreds of others, just a few years ago.
Its remarkable story - and the butterflies it supports - has helped propel it into the running to be crowned Tree of the Year 2023, alongside an oak that survived a wartime bomb and the tree that shaded Queen Elizabeth I on summer picnics.
Once one of the most distinctive English countryside trees - their umbrella-shaped forms have rising branches from a single trunk - they were devastated by the disease, thought to have entered the country on logs shipped from Canada around 1967.
By 1990, very few mature elms were left in Britain or much of continental Europe.
Fortunately the tree on Chelsea Road is resistant, despite being attacked by the elm bark beetle, which carries a fungus and bores through the bark.
The tree is also home to a very special butterfly, the White Letter Hairstreak, which lives its whole life in the tree, feeding as a caterpillar on the leaves, pupating and then emerging as butterflies which spend most of their time fluttering about in the very top of the tree.
A four-year campaign to prevent Sheffield Council felling the tree which was supposedly damaging the pavement and road made it one of the most famous in the country.
The Save Nether Edge Trees website recalls: “An open top bus was parked under the tree in July 2016, to allow the public easier viewing of the butterfly. A widely attended street party was hosted under the tree in July 2017. Brave campaigners blocked the tree from being felled when the chainsaws turned up in February 2018.”
Although safe from chainsaws at present, it will die one day and seven other elms, which are resistant to the disease, have been planted nearby in the hope that the colony of butterflies will move in.
The Chelsea Road elm is up against the Holm oak blitz tree, Exeter, Devon which survived a raid in 1942 by enemy bombers and the 800-year-old Crouch Oak in Addlestone, Surrey, under whose great boughs Queen Elizabeth reputedly dined.
“Ancient trees in towns and cities are vital for the health of nature, people and planet,” said Naomi Tilley, lead campaigner at the Woodland Trust.
“They give thousands of urban wildlife species essential life support, boost the UK’s biodiversity and bring countless health and wellbeing benefits to communities.
“But most ancient trees aren’t protected by law, and those in urban areas are particularly vulnerable, like one of this year’s nominees – which narrowly escaped being cut down by Sheffield City Council in 2017.”
The 13 short-listed trees, including one of the country’s rarest trees, Derriford’s Plymouth Pear, can all be seen for free.
The winner will represent the UK in the European Tree of the Year competition
Voting for the Woodland Trust’s 2023 Tree of the Year is open now until Sunday October 15 at woodlandtrust.org.uk/treeoftheyear Tree of the Year - Woodland Trust
This year’s winner will be announced on Thursday October 19.