UHI Inverness academic wins a fellowship to further his work restoring elm populations

UHI Inverness academic Dr Euan Bowditch has been named as one of nine new UK Treescapes fellows, an accolade that will enable him to focus on his work to restore wych elm tree populations.

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Dr Euan Bowditch

The fellows will bring fundamental questions about the Future of UK Treescapes to a wider audience through collaborations with stakeholders, the development of new tools, policy recommendations and public engagement activities.

The Future of UK Treescapes fellowships were launched by UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), as part of the £15.6 million Future of UK Treescapes Programme, designed to improve environmental, socio-economic and cultural understandings of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes.

The new cohort will conduct ground-breaking new projects working within the UK and Europe, which will be translated and delivered to stakeholders. The fellowships are supported with a £340,000 investment from the Natural Environment Research Council, part of UKRI and Defra.

Dr Bowditch is a lecturer at the Scottish School of Forestry in Balloch and researcher at UHI Inverness, within the Institute for Biodiversity and Freshwater Conservation. Last year he won an award for his research into Dutch elm disease (DED) which has killed millions of the UK’s native Wych Elm – leaving eerie standing skeletons across the landscape and a perceived lack of hope for the future.

During this fellowship, in collaboration with Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh, Dr Bowditch will focus on identifying and collecting samples from surviving wych elms in three areas of Scotland, including the Borders and Highlands where the repeated intensive spread of DED has occurred, as well as the Scottish islands that safeguard isolated populations that remain untouched by DED.

Over 300 surviving and infected sprouting trees will be sampled and genetically analysed from these areas using microsatellite markers to understand the genetic diversity and similarity of the species across the landscape, identify the potential resilience of different populations and establish any similar traits between surviving trees.

Additionally, techniques will be learnt for breeding and reproducing elms by mixing resilient individuals together to naturally regenerate over time, to help the creation of resilient seed banks for local restoration.

Alongside this scientific exploration of resilience, Dr Bowditch will produce a children’s book to raise awareness of the elm and highlight ways in which citizen scientists from all over the country can become involved in the elm hunt.

Dr Bowditch said: “This fellowship is a great opportunity to develop past work of mine on the elm and establish applied work on the restoration of the wych elm in Scotland that can be of use for years to come. I am excited to receive training in tree genetics techniques and methodologies to advance our knowledge of the wych elm in Scotland and build a network of healthy elms across the UK that can help everyone restore resilient elms back to the landscape. One of the most fun, and perhaps challenging, parts of the project will be writing the children’s book Going on an Elm Hunt. We are hoping it may help to raise awareness and the fact that the elm still survives despite devastation over the last 100 years.”

Dr Julie Urquhart, Co-Ambassador for the Future of UK Treescapes, said: “Our Fellows will collaborate with policymakers and practitioners to ensure that the outcomes from their projects have practical relevance at the local, regional or national scale.”

Professor Clive Potter, Co-Ambassador for the Future of UK Treescapes, said: “We're delighted to welcome the Fellows to the Future Treescapes programme. They will join a growing network of researchers investigating the many different dimensions of woodland expansion in the UK. Treescape fellowships are designed to give their recipients an opportunity to spend up to 12 months working on topics they are passionate about. We are excited to see the results of their work.”

The Future of UK Treescapes is an interdisciplinary research programme designed to improve environmental, socioeconomic and cultural understandings of the functions and services provided by UK treescapes. Outputs from the programme will help inform future decisions about treescape expansion, management and resilience for the benefit of the environment and society.

Issued by UK Treescapes