In the grounds of the Royal Pavilion there is the Hollow Brace Tree an English elm planted in 1776. This tree is the pride and joy of Royal Pavilion gardener Robert Hill-Snook.
During the early seventies when a strain of the Dutch elm disease wiped out between 25 and 30 million elms across the British countryside, parts of East Sussex including Eastbourne, Brighton and Hove, and villages nestling in the South Downs were apparently protected from this virulent disease by the English Channel and the Downs.
However, in recent years the disease has crept into young elm trees in the villages of Alfriston and Berwick, and local field officers and tree surgeons are fighting a losing battle from attack by the aerial beetle. The elm beetle carries the deadly fungus which spreads rapidly and kills the trees by blocking the water-carrying vessels. If affected trees are not removed the disease travels through the root system and attacks neighbouring trees.
Apparently the long dry, hot summer has played a major part in hastening the decline of these now rare elms. There are concerns that due to the current spending reviews and inevitable budget cuts, funding for tree surgery and felling could be seen as not a priority. As it is the spiralling of costs for both the East Sussex County Council and private landowners has become prohibitive which is possibly why this disease has been allowed to take hold once again.
It is suggested that once the new South Downs National Park comes into existence next April, it may well get behind the battle for the English elm. If it does I just may acknowledge there is at least one credible and worthwhile purpose for this new authority!
I was interested to see on the front page of the WSG last week reference to an article by Mid Sussex MP Nicholas Soames in the Daily Telegraph, in which he referred to the decline of many farmland birds despite millions of pounds having been spent on providing appropriate habitats. He suggests that funding to the farming community should be paid on a results only scheme with rewards restricted to farmers and landowners who deliver an increase of these now dwindling birds.
I understand that the decline is patchy rather than everywhere. In the South East one of the main reasons for a drop in the bird population is inevitably due to the explosion of numbers of people who walk out into the countryside. Huge numbers of walkers have dogs which they allow to roam through and across land where many of these birds nest, including the field margins which are specifically left uncultivated to provide a suitable area for wildlife, including birds to flourish. This invasion of walkers off the designated footpaths is hardly conducive to encouraging ground nesting birds and other wildlife to breed.
Nicholas Soames is so right when he acknowledges the importance of game management and explains the good husbandry of grouse moors where the population of native birds remains healthy.
In the past much of the farmland, down land, moors and marshes were managed for sporting activities by teams of experienced gamekeepers, huntsmen and gillies. These countrymen managed the land so carefully and expertly that both predators and trespassers were kept at bay, controlled or exterminated which ensured that our native birds flourished. Sadly with the decline of shooting and hunting combined with the decreasing financial margins in agriculture, the British landscape has changed dramatically and the priorities of farmers and land managers have had to adjust accordingly.
If the British public genuinely wish to see the number of native farmland birds’ increase they will have to control their dogs, and keep away from farmland and breeding grounds during the breeding season. They should support increased funding for farmers and land managers to enable them to employ experienced gamekeepers, as they themselves have not the time to devote to this work.
Also traditional hunting should be reintroduced and shooting should be supported across the country; these long-established country activities would ensure a dramatic increase in the native bird population. The current environmental schemes are half hearted and quite frankly a waste of time and effort in many cases.
Carola Godman Law