Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

Share this story


#ARBatwork #ArbMatters #EmbraceEquity #IWD2023 #PledgeLessPlastic #WomenInArb #WomenInTrees & 12 Faces of Arb 1987 storm 2 Rope 2018 2024 30 Under 30 3ATC 3ATC UK Open 50th annual AA AA award AA Awards Aboricultural Association Accident accreditation Addiction advice AFAG AFL aftercare AGM Agrilus Biguttatus aid air quality Alert Alex Kirkley All Party Parliamentary Group on Horticulture amenity Amenity Conference Anatomy Ancient Tree Forum Annual Awards Anthropology APF APF 2020 APF 2022 app APPGHG application Appointment apprentice apprenticeship Apprenticeships Approved Approved Contractor Approved Contractors ARB ARB Approved Contractor ARB Approved Contractors ARB at work ARB Magazine ARB Show arb training ARB Worker Zone ArbAC ARBatwork ArbCamp Arbor Day Arboretum Arboricultural Association Arboricultural Journal Arboricultural Student Arboriculture arborists Arbsafe Ash Ash Archive ash dieback Asian Hornet Assessments Assessors at atf ATO Australia Autumn Review award Awards Barcham Trees Bark Beetle Bartlett Bartlett Tree Experts bats Bats & Trees beetle Best Student Award beyond ism Bill Matthews biochar biodiversity Biodiversity Net Gain biomechanical biosecurity BNG Book Prize Book Shop Booking Books Bookshop boundaries branch Branches brand Brexit bs5837 BSI Budgeting Tool bursary business Call for Abrstacts Call for Abstracts Call for papers Campout Canker stain of plane Canopy Climbing Collective carbon career careers Cavanagh CAVAT CCS Cellular Confinement Cellular Confinement Systems CEnv CEO Ceratocystis Ceratocystis platani chainsaw chalara charity Charles charter Charter for Trees Chartered Environmentalist chelsea Chelsea Flower Show City & Guilds Claus Mattheck climate climate change climber climbing code Cofor Colleges committees competition competiton conference Conference India Confor conifers conservation Consultant consultation Continuous Professional Development Contractor Contractor Focus Contractors Cornwall Cornwall Branch Coronation Coronavirus Coroner Council Countryside Countryside Code Countryside Stewardship Course for beginners COVID-19 CPD cross industry news Crown & Canopy Cryphonectria parasitica Cumbria DART Date for your diary deadwood death debate Debt defra deployment Design Devon Director disease diversity DMM document donate dothistroma downloads draft Drought Dutch elm DWP EAC East Anglia ecology Economic Report economy Ecotricity education EFUF Election elections Electricity Elm yellows Emerald Ash Borer England England Tree Action Plan England Tree Strategy English Elm environment environmental EPF Equality equipment Equipment Theft Europe European Arboricultural Council European Forum on Urban Forestry European standards European Wood Pastures Event exeter Exhibitors Fall from Height Fatal Fatality felling Fellow Fellow Members Fera Field Trip Finance Fine firewood First Aid FISA flood flooding for Forest Research forestry Forestry Commission forests freelancers FSC Fund4Trees funding fundraiser fungal fungi Future Flora Futurebuild gardening GDPR Geocells Gold Medal Gov.uk government grant grants Grapple Saws Green Brexit Green Infrastructure Green Infratructure Green Recovery Green Up Guarantee guidance Guidance Note Guidance Note 2 guide guides Hazard Tree Health heart-rot Heatwave Hedgerow hedges height Helliwell Help Henry Girling Henry Kuppen History HMRC HOMED Homeworking Honey Brothers honours Horse Chestnut HortAid horticulture horticulturists HortWeek housing HRH HRH Prince Charles HS2 HSE HTA ICF ICoP identification Immigration import industry Industry Code of Practice industry skills Infographic InfraGreen Initiatives Inspiration Insurance Intermediate Tree Inspection International Urban Forestry Congress International Women’s Day International Year of Plant Health invertebrates Investigating Tree Archaeology Conference IPAF Ips typographus Irma irrigation ISA iso ITCC i-Tree IUFC IWD21 Jo Hedger Job Job Centre Plus job opportunity Jobcentre Plus jobs judgement JustGiving Karabiner Keith Sacre Kent Kew Kit land-based Landsaping Landscape Institute Landscape Recovery Scheme Landscape Show landscaping Lantra law Leaf Minor Lectures legal legislation Letters Liability licence Local Authority Treescapes Fund London longevity LTOA Lynne Boddy Magazine Malawi Managegement Plan manifesto maple Mayor of London MBE Melbourne Member Benefit Member Survey Membership Mental Health mentor MEWPs Midlands Morphophysiology moth' motion Moulton College Myerscough NASA National Geographic National Hedgerow Week National Tree Safety Group National Tree Week NATO Natural England NatureScot Netherlands New Year’s Honours News NHS nominations Northern Northumberland Notice notification NTIS NTOA NTOC NTSG Nurseries oak 'oak Oak Processionary Moth Oak-boring Beetle obituary Observatree occupation of OHRG online opm Padua Papua parks parliament Perennial Pests & Diseases Pests and Diseases Petersfield petition Petzl photo Phytophthora Phytophthora pluvialis Pine Processionary Moth plan planning Planning Law Plant Health Plant Healthy planting Plantsman Plantsmans Choice Pledge Plumpton College policy poll Poster Power PPE practice Preston Twins Prince Charles Prince of Wales processionary Product Recall Professional Members prosecution Protect and Survive protected tree protection PUWER Qualifications Queen’s 70th Jubilee Questionnaire Quotatis ramorum RC Recruitment Red Diesel reference Reg Harris Registered Registered Consultant Registered Consultants Rehab Rememberance Day renewal REnvP Report Rescue research Research grant Resilience response results Retirement retrenchment review RFS rhs RHS Chelsea Flower Show Ride for Research Ride4Research rigging Rodney Helliwell rogue tree surgeons Royal Forestry Society RSFS Safe Working Practice Safety Safety Bulletin Safety Bulletins Safety Guides Safety Notice Saftey Sale school science Scotland Scotland Branch Scottish Branch SDG Accord security Seed Gathering Season Seminar seminars Share Sheffield Show Sierra Leone Site Guidance skills skills survey SocEnv Social Benefits of Trees soil soils South East South East Branch South West Speaker spotlight SRT SRWP staff Standards statement Stationary Rope Stationary Rope Technique statutory STIHL Stonehouse Storm strategy student Student Book Prize Student Conference Study Trip Sub-contractors Succession Successsion Supporter survey Sustainable Soils Alliance Sweet Chestnut sweet chestnut blight Sycamore Gap symposium T Level T Levels Tatarian maple TDAG Technical technical guide Technical Guides technical officer Technical Officers Technical Team Technician Members Technology Ted Green Telecommunications tender TG3 Thames & Chiltern The Arboricultural Association The Forestry and Woodlands Advisory Committees The Plantsman’s Choice The Queen’s Green Canopy The Woodland Trust Thinking Arbs Thinking Arbs Day Timbersports Tony Kirkham Tools top-handled chainsaws,Elcoat, TPBE4 TPO Trading Standards trailblazer training transport Tree Tree Care Tree Champion Tree Council Tree Fayre tree felling Tree Health Tree Health Week Tree Inspection Tree Life tree loss tree management Tree of the year Tree Officer Tree officers tree pathogen tree planning Tree Planting Tree Production Innovation Fund Tree Protection tree register Tree Risk Tree Shears tree species Tree Supply Tree Surgeon Tree Surgeons Tree Week Tree Work at Height Tree Workers Zone TreeAlert Treeconomics tree-felling TreeRadar trees trees' Trees & Society Trees & Sociey Trees and Society Trees and the Law Trees for Cities Trees, People and the Built Environment trust' trustee Trustees TrustMark Two Rope two-rope UAG Uitlity UK favourite UK&ITCC ukas Ukraine UKWAS urban urban forest Urban Forestry Urban Tree Challenge Urban Tree Challenge Fund Urban Tree Cover Urban Tree Diversity Urban Tree World Cup urban trees UTD4 Utility Approved Contractors Utility Arboriculture Group UTWC vacancy Vanuatu VETcert veteran trees video Videos Virtual ARB Show volunteer voting VTA WAC Wales Wales Branch Warning Watering watering solutions Webinar webinars website Wednesday Webinars Wellbeing Western Westonbirt Wharton White Paper WIA Witley Women Women in Arb women in arboriculture Womens Arb Camp woodland Woodland Carbon Code Woodland Carbon Guarantee woodland trust woods Work Work at Height Workshops World Environment Day World Fungi Day Xylella young Young Arboricultural Professional Young Arboricultural Professional Award young arborists Young People’s Breakfast Event Young Tree Aftercare Youth Programme zoo

Living archaeology: the legacy of the Beauly Elm

Author:  Sarah Franklin
Last Updated:  05/12/2023

Sarah Franklin, Landscape Manager at Historic Environment Scotland

Although Historic Environment Scotland (HES) has a property portfolio of over 330 sites of national importance managed on behalf of Scottish Ministers, it only has a relatively small landholding of 750 hectares.

The Digital Documentation and Innovation Team at HES recorded the Beauly Elm using laser scanning and photogrammetry. (Historic Environment Scotland)

The Digital Documentation and Innovation Team at HES recorded the Beauly Elm using laser scanning and photogrammetry. (Historic Environment Scotland)

The Beauly Elm on a chilly day. (Historic Environment Scotland)

The Beauly Elm on a chilly day. (Historic Environment Scotland)

Traditionally, the focus has been on the upstanding built and below-ground archaeology of the sites. However, with the formation of Historic Environment Scotland (the dissolution of the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland and the amalgamation of the responsibilities with Historic Scotland), there has been a clear definition provided of what the historic environment is. If you were wondering, in Scotland it is defined as the physical evidence for past human activity. It connects people with place, and with the traditions, stories and memories associated with places and landscapes.

So that brings us to trees. HES has managed trees on a risk/hazard management basis on the sites, habitually seeing them as a risk to property and people. When we do tree surveys, we’ve referred to them as ‘Tree Hazard Management’ rather than maybe ‘Tree Condition Surveys’ as an example. But when we consider the definition for the historic environment and investigate the term ‘physical evidence of human activity’, then trees certainly tick the box.

Reams have been written on trees as key structural features within historic gardens or designed landscapes, the development of plantation ancient woodland to support past industries, and the planting of trees as key land-boundary markers and community gathering places. And if we then talk about the connection of people with place, traditions and stories, there are bucketloads of examples, from the 600-year-old Birnam Oak and Macbeth associations to Pontius Pilate being born under the 5,000-year-old (dates vary) Fortingall Yew in Perthshire. Indeed, it seems that every other tree in Scotland on a historic property claims to have been planted by Mary, Queen of Scots herself! It’s apparent that many trees are indeed ‘living archaeology’.

The demise of the Beauly Elm

However, the demise of the 800-year-old Beauly Elm due to Dutch elm disease has provided us with an opportunity to see afresh and consider the tree stock on the estate as a cultural asset, and a key component of the historic environment. The Beauly Elm itself was a lone remnant of a once ancient avenue leading to Beauly Priory and thought to be the oldest surviving elm in Europe. It’s described in medieval documents as a boundary marker for the land granted to the Valliscaulian Monks on establishment of the priory and has stood, as a prominent and gnarly gothic landmark, in the north side of the village square for centuries.

In 2021, any vague hope was lost, and the elm was reported as being only 5% living material. The temptation and recommendation were to fell immediately, but how do you deal with the demise of a significant cultural asset? If we were to lose a building to demolition, we would at the very least make meticulous records of its structure and condition before it was lost. What would we do for a tree?

Digital recording and community consultation

A decision was made to retain the tree for as long as structurally possible (at the time we were anticipating six months to a year), even if that meant as a standing monolith. This would allow time for recording and surveying and informing both the local community and other interested parties. Recording of buildings, collections and archaeology is now done by digital scanning, and that summer the Digital Documentation and Innovation Team at HES recorded their first tree, producing stunning images through laser scanning and photogrammetry.

The news of the elm’s demise was messaged out to the scientific community in terms of dendrochronology, climate change and disease, with the images shared with the local community and wider press. The images captured the public’s imagination, and with additional articles and interviews requested, it is thought that around 3.5 million people read or heard about the elm. As a Landscape Manager, I have often said to colleagues that no one will comment on masonry works on a site, but if you undertake any tree works, everyone will be in touch. The Beauly Elm was no different.

This public interest allowed the snowball to keep rolling, and in the summer of 2022, HES issued its first ever Historic Environment Support Fund (HESF) to a specific tree-related project – the 2022 Year of Stories, Guardian of the Gateway: 800 years of the Beauly Wych Elm. Public events were held throughout the year in Beauly by Circus Artspace and artist Isabel McLeish, with engagement from NatureScot and the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and an accompanying 80-page publication produced.

However, by the winter of 2022 the structural condition of the tree, which by this time was dead, was a concern and the remaining limbs were removed, with the intention of a full fell being undertaken at the end of the winter with a last community send-off. But over Christmas, after a period of intensive cold followed by rapid thaw, Mother Nature beat us to it and the Beauly Elm finally succumbed.

Public love and legacy

The elm again hit the headlines, and HES was inundated with queries from the public. However, the feedback was all positive and we did not receive a single note of complaint or criticism. Like a terminal diagnosis for a loved one, the community had had time over the past year to digest and celebrate the life of this silent presence in the village. And the elm will live on, no longer as ‘living archaeology’, but as a piece of timber within the HES collections (the majority being gifted to the community) and survey images acting as a picture book to the intangible heritage surrounding the historic tree.

To view the three-dimensional digital scan model of the Beauly Elm and read more about it in the media, visit these websites:




This article was taken from Issue 203 Winter 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.