The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers planted a symbolic nine elms in Nine Elms yesterday (June 22), to mark a visit by its liverymen to New Covent Garden Market.
The trees were planted on a rewilding site to be known as the Butterfly Garden close to the entrance of the Market. They will not only add to the diversity and sustainability of the environment in Nine Elms, London’s newest district situated on the south bank of the River Thames between Vauxhall and Battersea, but also eventually play their natural role as host trees in the breeding cycle of one of the country’s threatened butterflies, the White-letter Hairstreak.
The elms were propagated and grown in Worcestershire, by Frank P Matthews, one of the largest tree-growing nurseries in the UK which supplies elms across the country, primarily to conservation groups. Managing Director Nick Dunn said: “Elms were such an important part of the UK landscape in years past. Dutch Elm Disease (DED) was devastating for elms here in the 60s and 70s and consequently, a number of breeding programmes were established in Europe to develop a high degree of resistance to the disease.”
Many of these hybrids have been extremely successful, according to Dunn. “Our nursery has propagated two of these varieties, both of which are highly resistant to DED now and we believe they will continue to be resistant. Both of them – ‘Nanguen’ (selling name LUTЀCE) and Wingham – will be planted in Nine Elms. There have been a lot of new elms planted in the UK in recent years, but not that many in London and of course, it’s particularly apt that we can plant nine elms in Nine Elms.”
Elm conservation is one thing, of course, but providing a new home to a previously struggling butterfly adds a second interesting element to this story. Both Wingham and Nanguen are known to host the WLH butterfly, which was also threatened as a species by DED. The discovery of the White-letter Hairstreak on Nanguen was particularly significant as the tree has a very different periodicity from the reputedly favourite native host, wych elm, suggesting the insect is possessed of a considerable adaptability which could see it breeding on other high-resistance cultivars.
Hampshire butterfly conservationist Andrew Brookes said the planting in Nine Elms adds to others in the local area, as 'New Horizon' elms at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens host the White-letter Hairstreak, as do wych elms at Battersea Park and, across the river, at Middle Temple Gardens. There are also nine elms once more on nearby Nine Elms Lane opposite the US Embassy after Wandsworth Council planted two young elms to replace the missing two, back in January 2019.
“The White-letter Hairstreak is a small, dark, butterfly, belonging to the same family as the little blues (Lycaenidae), but spends most of its time basking atop the elms once they (the trees) are sexually mature. This is important, as the caterpillars, hatching in early March, need elm flowers, and later seeds, for sustenance until the leaves flush. The females seem to have quite a capacity for dispersal; the butterfly is found in central Portsmouth, for instance, on an ancient roadside wych elm only a stone's throw from Dickens' birthplace.”
Laurence Olins, Master of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers, who made the ceremonial planting of the ninth elm at New Covent Garden Market said the livery company was delighted to be making such a relevant and potentially momentous donation to the country’s largest horticultural wholesale market. “This Market has been central to the food supply chain in London for more than 800 years and it was where I cut my own teeth in the fruit and vegetable industry,” said Olins. “It now lies at the heart of London’s newest district and is being redeveloped to retain its position a long way into the future and there could be nowhere more appropriate than here for us to plant these trees and hopefully restore a lost butterfly population in central London.
“As fruit and vegetable specialists, we understand the vital role that insects play in the sustainability of our production environments.”
For New Covent Garden Market, where the redevelopment programme will be completed in 2027, this was a great chance to give something back to the environment in which wholesalers ply their trade.
Jo Breare, General Manager of Covent Garden Market Authority, the landlord and management company of the market, said: “Sustainability and environmental responsibility are right at the top of our agenda as we develop a market fit for the long-term future. One of the changes we’ve seen in recent times is a welcome reduction in the amount of fruit and vegetables wasted in the supply chain, as people across the world have recognised our responsibility to the environment. New Covent Garden Market is a zero to landfill site now and the traders here are all working towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable future in everything that we do. We are constructing state-of-the-art energy-efficient buildings with energy-efficient equipment and the traders are all working towards greener, sustainable and energy-efficient equipment and vehicles as technological advances are being made.
“To plant these elms in such an appropriate place is a great gesture by the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and we are all looking forward to welcoming the White-letter Hairstreak to the New Covent Garden Market community!”