The Return of the English Elm

During the summers of 1970s, the English countryside would in parts turn to autumn. Across the fields from my school, mighty trees yellowed and browned and the leaves would fall off. The skeletons that emerged were all that remained of the English Elm, wiped out by a fungus-carrying beetle that had made its way across the Atlantic in logs from North America.

Some 25 million trees died in that decade and in the immediate years that followed, leaving seemingly irreplaceable gaps in the patchworks fields and hedgerows of lowland England. The English Elm, immortalised by artist John Constable, that most magnificent of trees that billowed upwards like a cloud, was gone forever – or so it seemed.

Thanks however to some far sighted folk who realised that the English Elm and many other Elm hybrids had survived largely for geographic reasons in a part of East Sussex, to this day it is possible to see the last mature English Elms in the country. One in the grounds of Brighton Pavilion was planted in the year of American independence, and is today a hollow, but still live, giant.

And when I came to live to New York I was surprised and cheered in equal measure that to discover some magnificent examples of the English Elm surviving in Manhattan, the most famous being ‘Hangman’s Elm’ in Washington Square. This tree had been planted by an earlier settler at what had been known as Herring Farm. Years later, it is said that the tree came to be used as a Gibbet, although it seems more likely that a nearby burial ground somehow contributed to the macabre name.

I thought of all this today as it was announced that two hundred and fifty schools in Britain, including my daughters will be receiving young disease resistant Elm trees to plant. The children will measure their progress over time, and the hope is that these nurseries for children will provide nurseries for trees.

They will most likely be hybrid Elms, since the English Elm is curiously susceptible to disease, largely because it is descended from one original root stock brought over by the Romans to train their vines. I’ve been busy planting some of these trees over at Scotsgrove Mill, where my Aunt lives. I’ve also planted a couple of English Elms that a friend of mine from Brighton assures me are disease resistant.

I will have to wait at least twenty years until I know whether they are which is a something of a call. But I can’t think of anything more pleasurable than watching a tree that one has planted slowly grow outwards and upwards.

To be able to point to such a tree when out walking with friends or family has to be one of life’s greatest treats and privileges. Here is hoping my Elms survive.

Compelling speakers do these 4 things every single time

The ability to speak clearly, succinctly, and powerfully is easier than you think

Former U.S. President Barack Obama speaks during a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee rally at the Anaheim Convention Center on September 8, 2018 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Barbara Davidson/Getty Images)
Personal Growth

The ability to communicate effectively can make or break a person's assessment of your intelligence, competence, and authenticity.

Keep reading Show less

Antimicrobial resistance is a growing threat to good health and well-being

Antimicrobial resistance is growing worldwide, rendering many "work horse" medicines ineffective. Without intervention, drug-resistant pathogens could lead to millions of deaths by 2050. Thankfully, companies like Pfizer are taking action.

Image courtesy of Pfizer.
  • Antimicrobial-resistant pathogens are one of the largest threats to global health today.
  • As we get older, our immune systems age, increasing our risk of life threatening infections. Without reliable antibiotics, life expectancy could decline for the first time in modern history.
  • If antibiotics become ineffective, common infections could result in hospitalization or even death. Life-saving interventions like cancer treatments and organ transplantation would become more difficult, more often resulting in death. Routine procedures would become hard to perform.
  • Without intervention, resistant pathogens could result in 10 million annual deaths by 2050.
  • By taking a multi-faceted approach—inclusive of adherence to good stewardship, surveillance and responsible manufacturing practices, as well as an emphasis on prevention and treatment—companies like Pfizer are fighting to help curb the spread.
Keep reading Show less

Preserving truth: How to confront and correct fake news

Journalism got a big wake up call in 2016. Can we be optimistic about the future of media?

  • "[T]o have a democracy that thrives and actually that manages to stay alive at all, you need regular citizens being able to get good, solid information," says Craig Newmark.
  • The only constructive way to deal with fake news? Support trustworthy media. In 2018, Newmark was announced as a major donor of two new media organizations, The City, which will report on New York City-area stories which may have otherwise gone unreported, and The Markup, which will report on technology.
  • Greater transparency of fact-checking within media organizations could help confront and correct fake news. Organizations already exist to make media more trustworthy — are we using them? There's The Trust Project, International Fact-Checkers Network, and Tech & Check.
Keep reading Show less