The National Elm Collection and White-Letter Hairstreak Butterflies

Brighton and Hove has proven to be the last remaining refuge for Britain’s English Elm trees and the city hosts the National Elm Collection. Once as widespread across the UK landscape as the ever present English Oak, the gnarled form of mature English Elms were particularly favoured by nesting birds and roosting bats. But with the accidental introduction of the fungus that causes Dutch Elm Disease (DED) in the 1960s, the species has now been all but lost from the rest of the country.

The English Elms of Brighton and Hove have in part remained protected due to our isolated location, with the city sandwiched between the South Downs and the English Channel, and a continued effort by the city council’s arboriculture team to control the spread of the disease. The “Preston Twins” of Preston Park were believed to be the oldest surviving English Elms, at around 500 years old, but sadly in 2019 one of the twins was found to be infected with DED and was felled to try to save the remaining tree (pictured right).

Mature Elms in Brighton and Hove invariably play host to colonies of White-letter Hairstreak Butterflies, a species which is extremely rare in the rest of the country. Turn your head skyward in July and August and you may see the adults flitting around the canopy or, if you’re lucky, they may come down to you to feed on wildflowers in the surrounding grasslands. Hollingbury park, Withdean Woods and Preston Park are likely places to see them, but they are pretty much everywhere where there are Elms!

“BHWF looks forward to a future where nature and our community live together to our mutual benefit, enabling our city to play its part in addressing the nature and climate crises.”

Last updated 25 February 2021