HORTICULTURE experts in north Essex may have created a tree with resistance to a devastating disease.

Dutch elm disease wiped out 25 million trees in the Sixties.

Melvyne Crow, Braintree Council’s former landscape and countryside manager, was working with the Forestry Commission and timber industry experts to try to halt the spread of the disease, which wiped out almost every large elm in the south of the country.

In the Eighties, Mr Crow took cuttings from four healthy specimens.

He teamed up with Paul King, managing director of King & Co the Tree Nursery, in Rayne, who organised the production of thousands of Mr Crow’s trees, thought to have a high resistance to the disease.

He has spent “considerable funds”, thought to be tens of thousands, on increasing their numbers.

About 50 elms grown on from Mr Crow’s cuttings have been planted around the district, where they are doing well.

Now they are attracting the attention of horticulturists across the country.

King & Co has begun dispatching trees as far afield as Carlisle and Cornwall.

Mr King said: “We can’t claim the trees are immune from Dutch elm disease.

“However, the original cuttings and the micropropogated stock are all in full leaf and we are optimistic these trees have a very high resistance.

“Many theories have been expounded, but I believe the elm beetle does not like to feed on this type of smooth-leaved elm.

“For the sake of our wonderful countryside, and bearing in mind the current disease threat to our native oak trees, we sincerely hope so.”

Oak trees are under threat from acute oak decline, a disease that can kill them within five years of symptoms first appearing.

Alan Power, a National Trust gardener at Stourhead, in Wiltshire, said: “The fact the cuttings have come from the original elm is brilliant.

“It would be wonderful to see the native English elms back in the countryside again.”