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‘Too little, too late’? Science, policy and Dutch Elm Disease in the UK

Tomlinson, Isobel and Potter, C. (2010) ‘Too little, too late’? Science, policy and Dutch Elm Disease in the UK. Journal of Historical Geography 36 (2), pp. 121-131. ISSN 0305-7488.

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Official URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.jhg.2009.07.003

Abstract

The Dutch Elm Disease outbreak of the late 1960s and early 1970s was arguably one of the most dramatic environmental events to affect the British countryside in the last fifty years. The demise of over 28 million elms destroyed the much celebrated, and publicly valued, ‘elmscapes’ of lowland England and brought about extensive habitat loss. During the middle and later phases of the epidemic, the policy response from the UK Forestry Commission, Ministry of Agriculture and local government came to be seen as ‘too little, too late’. Yet forty years after the outbreak it is still unclear whether the epidemic could have been better managed and how far any lessons can be drawn for the way present day disease risks to trees should be tackled. Drawing on the extensively documented (but hitherto unexplored) public record of the outbreak held at Forest Research and the National Archives, together with materials from retrospective interviews conducted by the authors with scientists and policymakers closely involved in the epidemic at the time, this paper presents a fresh analysis of Dutch Elm Disease in the UK. The paper seeks to explain the catastrophic outcome of the outbreak, not only in terms of the underlying (and highly malign) pathology of the disease itself, but also because of an initially inaccurate scientific assessment of the nature of the threat constructed within a small but influential community of forest pathologists and policy officials.

Item Type: Article
Keyword(s) / Subject(s): Dutch Elm Disease, Tree disease, Rural landscapes
School or Research Centre: Birkbeck Schools and Research Centres > School of Social Sciences, History and Philosophy > Geography, Environment and Development Studies
Depositing User: Administrator
Date Deposited: 20 Jun 2012 09:54
Last Modified: 17 Apr 2013 12:23
URI: http://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/4837

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