SCOTLAND'S recently named Tree of the Year – the 'Last Ent of Affric' – has been adopted as symbolic leader of a campaign to halt the spread of Dutch elm disease in the Highlands, as Scottish Forestry urges the public to avoid moving elm timber and firewood across the disease frontline.

Alasdair Firth of Woodland Trust Scotland said: “Dutch elm disease has swept round the North-East of Scotland to Inverness and is now making its way along the Great Glen towards the west coast. There are healthy elm populations on the west coast now under threat. The ElmWatch campaign launched today aims to stop the spread of the disease and carry out research to secure the future of the species.”

Dr Euan Bowditch of the Wooded Landscapes Research Group at Inverness College UHI said: “The disease is directly spread by beetles, but ultimately by people. We are seeing Dutch elm disease move through major road arteries in the Highlands – along the Great Glen but also north along the A9, and out towards Ullapool on the A835.

“The beetles are hitch-hiking their way across the Highlands, most likely through the transport of diseased wood that will infect and kill more trees. If we can limit the movement of infected elm wood, we can give healthy elm populations, such as those in the west, a shot at survival.”

John Risby, Scottish Forestry Conservator for the Highlands and Islands Conservancy said: “Major infection has spread around the Moray Firth in the last four years. The beetle cannot fly far and would be unlikely to make it to the west coast unaided. We are asking everyone to avoid moving elm timber or firewood north or west of the line shown on our map. This line is an estimate of the extent of the disease in 2019.

“If you see an elm north or west of this line which you think may be infected please report it through the TREEALERT website.”

Dr Euan Bowditch added: “The public perception of elm is probably quite defeatist. Many people might not realise that healthy elms exist, grow and regenerate. I think it is important to emphasise that elms are not lost to our landscape.

“They still have a role to play in the structure of our native woodland. But this requires collaborative work across landscapes with agencies, communities and landowners. I hope the launch of ElmWatch can begin to raise the necessary levels of awareness to give our elms a future.”