RARE native elm trees on Brownsea Island are being protected under a new monitoring scheme in a bid to save them from Dutch Elm Disease.

The 80 trees are believed to be the only such group of semi-mature elms in Dorset, and are survivors of the epidemic in the 1970s.

They are still at risk from the disease, which has prompted joint action by conservationists from Dorset Wildlife Trust and the National Trust.

The smooth leaved elms, Ulmus minor, were discovered by DWT’s Brownsea Island warden Abigail Gibbs, in 2004 following rhododendron clearance.

Abigail, a tree expert, who worked on controlling the disease in Sussex, has set up a joint group of volunteers and staff from the two trusts, to protect the remaining trees.

“The presence of these elm trees on the island is a complete mystery, but it is wonderful to see established elms such as there used to be all over the country,” said Abigail.

Reuben Hawkwood, NT head ranger on the Poole Harbour island said: “We are very lucky that these elms were spotted in 2004 as it has given us the opportunity to put measures in place to monitor and protect them.”

Two trees on the island were claimed by the disease in 2009, which wiped out nearly all the mature elms in the country during the 1970s.

It takes the form of a fungus which spreads up the tree through the bark, affecting the water system right up to the leaf canopy.