The trustees of the Town & Manor of Hungerford will be introducing 25 English elms as a test planting at the end of February. This is just the latest aspect of the arboreal management of the Common which dates back to the 16th century.
Town and Manor Trustee Robert James said: “in 1972/73 Dutch Elm Disease infected the collection of about 70 mixed varieties of English elms that had been planted in the 19th century by the feoffees (old trustees). All those trees died and had to be felled and removed from the Common. Replacement maples were planted each side of the road from the Down Gate to the Inkpen Gate. In addition to the loss of the avenues of Elms there were many more hedge row elms that also died.” This was a devastating loss of indigenous elms and no one could envisage elms being part of the Common ever again.
The trustees have now sourced a supply of English Elms that are resistant to the Dutch elm disease. These have been developed from a genetic sport originally found in Wisconsin University USA.
“There was a planting of over 100 of these elms in Pontcanna Park Cardiff in 2005,” said James Hillier of Hillier’s Nursery at Ampfield in Hampshire. “All the trees have grown on well and we are confident that the stock is resistant to the disease and suitable for planting on the Common Port Down in Hungerford.”
Specialist advice has been provided by Consultant Arborculturalist Ben Holding (BSc (Hons) For. Arbor. A.) who has recommended planting small groups of elms in the hedgerow from the cattle pens at the Inkpen Gate to the east along Dead Man’s Lane to the Hungerford Park boundary and also three groups of three trees in the Fisherman’s Car Park at Dun Mill. This project will be included in future summer educational trailer rides on the Common Port Down.
The restoration project planting of English Elms on the Common Port Down by the trustees has also the support of North Wessex Downs AONB and Natural England.
The trustees welcome other organisations who may be interested in supporting and sponsoring this project for the future – for more information and contact details, please visit the Town and Manor website.
Photographs (thanks to the Hungerford Virtual Museum): elm trees in the Common in the 1910s (top) and the 1930s (bottom).