My Autobiography Soon to be Published!

I am proud to announce the publication of my long awaited autobiography, ‘Monty Larkin – A Rural Biography.’ This covers such topics as: family background, child and early adulthood, Seven Sisters Country Park, downland conservation, wildlife and weather observations, the fight against Dutch elm disease, environmental considerations, love and relationships and, contains a substantial chapter concerning my two decades of managing conservation grazing across Sussex using iconic Exmoor ponies.
This softback work of 496 pages, is fully illustrated in black & white and colour and retails at £17.99 I am now taking orders for its planned publication during September 2020. Contact me at to place your order.

A West Dean Garden and Elm Loss

Saturday, July 7th.  Had a beautiful, enjoyable afternoon, including a trip down Memory Lane!  Went to an Open Garden event in aid of the Family Support Group at The Long House in West Dean near Seaford.  The owners have over the past six years created an extensive, beautiful but compartmentalised cottage garden containing a wide variety of plants.

Part of the garden at The Long house.

After, we visited the nearby churchyard and church.  I used to know the village well and a number of its then inhabitants when I lived and worked over the hill at Exceat during the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Upon leaving the village spotted one of the last fair-sized elms in the area starting to die from Dutch Elm Disease.  Further up the valley at Lullington and especially sad for me, one of the last sizable elms has at last surrendered to this dreadful disease. It is the only example in the area of a Smooth-leaved Elm of the variety diversafolia.

Variety ssp. diversafolia back in 2012.

I managed the East Sussex Dutch Elm Control project between 1997 and 2004.  Due to mis-management and cost-cutting, it unraveled two years later and failed, after a total of some 30 something years and the expenditure of millions of pounds of public money.

Dismantling in Eastbourne

Made a brief visit to Eastbourne this morning and took these pics of changes taking place within the town.  The first is the dismantling of a fine Wheatley variety of a street elm along Southfields Road due to a large cavity within it and also that it was dying from Dutch Elm Disease (DED), note the dead twigs at the extremities of its crown.  One of the tree surgeons told me that Eastbourne is fairing reasonably well with DED.

Elm trees seem to this spring have produced a very heavy crop of seed – though very little elm seed is viable, it mainly spreading by root suckers.

The second pic is of major demolition of redundant shops along Terminus Road opposite the railway station to make way for extending the Arndale Centre.  I just hope that when it comes to the interior design, they don’t replicate the boring interior of the present mall!

Trees – Historically, Disease and Their Future

A research project being carried out by the University of East Anglia has been studying the arboreal history of a sample of four English counties.  The first lesson learnt is that the three major tree species were oak, Ash and elm.  The second is that the dominance of these together with the less frequent species such as Beech, Cherry, limes, Hornbeam, Field Maple and Scots Pine are very likely due to human choice which in turn was based on practical and economic considerations at the time.  It has also discovered that rural tree population were up until the mid-19th century, much more vigorously managed with much pollarding and coppicing being carried out and with timber trees likely to have been felled at an earlier age.  It is considered that these practices may all have contributed to an overall healthier tree population.

Last of the elms of 'Alfriston's Cathedral Walk,' 2012.

Last of the elms of ‘Alfriston’s Cathedral Walk,’ 2012.

During the last half century, this status quo has and is likely to continue to be adversely affected: modern intensive farm management; apart from within urban sanctuaries we have lost the elm as a tree; Ash is now under considerable attack from a recently arrived fungus and there are doubts about our oaks and disease.  Waterside Alder has now been under fungal attack for some decades as is Horse Chestnut being plundered by a micro moth ‘breaking-out’ from Macedonia.  Currently knocking at the UK’s door are: the Emerald Ash Borer, Sweet Chestnut blight, various conifer diseases and a suite of ‘alien’ insect pests.

If that were not enough, we still have our home grown tree diseases such as fungal plunderers and various blights.  There is also the ‘elephant in the room’ – climate change; this could impose major changes on our beautiful tree populations.  There have calls by some that we should be proactive and start planting more continental species – walnut and perhaps, Downy Oak to ‘bolster’ our two native oaks.  Challenging times indeed for our woody neighbours…

Sweet Chestnut attacked by root rot fungus along ghyll valley, Ashdown Forest SSSI.

Sweet Chestnut attacked by root rot fungus along ghyll valley, Ashdown Forest SSSI.



A Criticism of Knepp Estate’s Rewilding – My Rebuke

Following a very critical letter in the British Wildlife journal from Sussex campaigner Dave Bangs, below is my response to BW on his views on Knepp, conservation funding, estates in general, land use and ownership:

I would like to respond to Sussex campaigner Dave Bangs letter (BW 27: 455) in response to Peter Marren’s inspiring article concerning rewilding on the Knepp Estate in West Sussex (BW27: 333-339).

Firstly, the comment DB makes about ecologists lecturing on behalf of wealthy estates and concurrently the loss of posts in public-sector conservation bodies are not directly connected.  The withdrawal of Government monies from these bodies (and the NHS), is part of a much wider debate concerning this country living within its means and poorly considered political decisions made by the previous Government.  Maybe the odd conservation body should reconsider how they spend their budget?

Sadly, the rosy days of funding for wildlife and conservation during the 1990’s now seem far behind…  I feel quite angry when I see decades of my own work unravelling before my eyes!  Chalk grassland ungrazed; rights of way now largely un-maintained; the loss of tens of thousands of elm trees – a speciality here in East Sussex.  Then there is the neutering Natural England…

He argues that this and other lands should not be favoured with public monies.  I feel that strategically placed, relatively modest-scale projects such as Knepp should be encouraged in the hope that they will provide oases for the more mobile wildlife species (and people).  The small percentage of land involved in such schemes is on a world-scale, not worth even contemplating.  I would be the first to agree that the current agri-environment scheme is not ideal but I disagree with DB’s left-wing, politically-tinged assault on the amazing work being carried out at Knepp.  Also in Knepp’s defence, it does produce a quantity of excellent meat.  As DB states, it is part of the somewhat “more resistant farmlands of the Weald,” land that often requires a great deal of effort, inputs and capital, to make a living from within these difficult times.  Sadly, global food prices are a part of today’s modern world – farmers cannot exist within their own little economic bubbles.

The statement concerning Eastbourne Borough Council’s decision to “sell its iconic and wildlife-rich downland estate around Beachy Head” smells a little of red herrings.  Admittedly not a decision I am happy with but the selling of four mainly ‘grassed-down’ arable farms (this sale being made incidentally with no public consultation input), does however, not include the “iconic” coastal chalk grasslands.  The other estate referred to is presumably the Rathfinney Estate vinyard near Alfriston, which one has to say is a great improvement on the rolling, sterile acres of cereals that were its former use.  Additionally, this Estate has made efforts to conserve scrubby, previously long un-grazed chalk downland and to encouraging wildlife elsewhere within its landholding.

I feel that sustainable food production should be concentrated on the good productive lands that (currently) have little wildlife interest, but, with a modest amount of tweaking based on work such as carried out at the RSPB’s Hope Farm.  The current rewards for ‘lip-service’ to the current agri-environment scheme,  that is often the case at the moment must be ended.  Let us hope that post Brexit, we will gain a far more wildlife-friendly agri-environment scheme, fair to our wonderful landscapes, fair to farmers and sustainable – but I for one, will not be holding my breath for that!

Monty Larkin.  (Has worked for the Sussex landscape and its wildlife for 40 years.  Founder and until recently Grazing Co-ordinator of the Sussex Pony Grazing & Conservation Trust.  Visit

An Approach to Carry Out Limited Protection of Elm Trees

Here is an article on an approach to carry out limited protection of our elm trees but is only suitable for non-diseased prime specimens as it has to be repeated every year.

dutchtrig_injection_vierkant_home3Dutch Trig®

History of Dutch Trig®

Dutch Trig® is a preventative vaccination for elms developed by the University of Amsterdam at the end of the 1980’s. In the Netherlands the need for this biological vaccine for elm trees to prevent Dutch elm disease was, and is very high because of the ban on use of chemicals on street and park trees.

What is Dutch Trig®?

Dutch Trig® is a non-chemical, non-toxic, biological control agent, or vaccine. The vaccine consists of a suspension of spores of a very specific strain of the fungus Verticillium, (not genetically modified), in distilled water. This spore suspension is injected in the elm in spring.

Where does Dutch Trig® come from?

The Verticillium albo-atrum used in Dutch Trig® was originally isolated from a potato field in the Netherlands. Verticillium itself is a natural soil borne fungus occurring all over the world, of which several species are capable of infecting many species of herbaceous and some woody plant species through damaged roots. Normally, natural strains of Verticillium(of both dahliae and albo-atrum species) infect the xylem tissue and cause wilting symptoms.

How does it work?

The strain of Verticillium albo-atrum used in Dutch Trig® is a natural hyaline (or white) variant of the natural strain. This specific hyaline strain of Verticillium has lost so much of its pathogenic capabilities that it no longer is able to cause wilting symptoms on trees any more. The strain has still a little of its original pathogenicity left, which is just enough to induce an immune response in the elm after injection. Dutch Trig® can be seen as a catalyst, which induces an immune response in a healthy elm tree that will protect it against Dutch elm disease during one growing season. This is called induced resistance. After injection, with its defence mechanisms up and running throughout the growing season, the elm is able to successfully fend off Dutch elm disease infections later in the growing season.

In practice, it can be compared with an influenza vaccination. Dutch Trig® does not make healthy elms sick, but prepares them for any onslaught of Ophiostoma novo-ulmi carried by elm bark beetle. Because elm trees grow a new outer layer of sapwood on the trunk and branches every year, which is separated from the growth of previous years (heartwood), the treatment has to be repeated annually.

Where does the vaccine go?

Dutch Trig’s mode of action is based on inducing natural resistance in healthy elms. This means that there is no relation or direct interaction between the Dutch Trig® and the Dutch elm disease fungus. Dutch Trig® does not produce any phytotoxins in the elm to fend of the Dutch elm disease infection, nor does it “grow all throughout the trees xylem tissue where otherwise Ophiostoma would grow”. The vaccine does not “travel” to the elms branches, roots, or leafs.

In fact, after injection, Dutch Trig® stays within a circle of 4 inches around the point of injection in the trunk, and within two to three weeks after injection, the elm has removed all the injected Verticillium from its xylem tissue. Two weeks after injection, Dutch Trig® can no longer be re-isolated from the injected tree.

The vaccine has no curative properties. Vaccinating elm trees which already have Dutch elm disease is of no use. Injecting disease trees can be compared to vaccinating humans after they already have fallen ill, which is of no use because the body will already be at work trying to get the disease out.

Is Dutch Trig® harmful?

Dutch Trig® is safe for humans and animals, because Verticillium is not a human or an animal pathogen and because the vaccine has no chemical or toxic substances. Dutch Trig® is safe for trees too: Dutch Trig® has been injected in several tree species (amongst which Verticillium susceptible species such as maple) to check in the vaccine would induce any wilting. None of the injected species showed any signs of wilting after injection (for species injected see list below).

Acer macrophyllum

Acer saccharum

Aesculus hippocastanum

Betula papyrifera

Castanea spp.

Cornus nuttallii

Crataegus monogyna

Fagus spp.

Magnolia spp.

Malus spp.

Prunus lusitanica

Prunus serrata

Quercus rubra

Rhododendron spp.

Sorbus aucuparia

Ulmus americana

  1. carpinifolia
  2. hollandica
  3. laevis
  4. procera
  5. pumila

Viburnum spp.

Does the vaccine have any side effects on treated trees?

Wilting of trunk suckersDutch Trig® does not have any significant side effects on the treated trees. The only one visible side effect of the Dutch Trig® injection so far has been noted on a few trees in the US, showing wilting of specific suckers low on the trunk of the elm, above the site of injection. The wilted trunk suckers would sprout new leaves later in the growing season.

Week Ending Saturday, June 4th.

Early in the week, I had to check the 12 ponies on the combined commons at Chailey.  They were together with the 9 longhorn cattle, both groups in exactly the same spots, the ponies grazing, the cattle laying down chewing the cud, again exactly the same.  Very dé-jà vu!

Wednesday, 1st.  A cold, windy and at times, wet day with the wind from the north-west and unseasonably cool.  There’s still a lot of truth in the old saying, ‘cast not a clout till May is out.’  I always maintain the weather is always very variable through much of this month of May.

As I was leaving the downland escarpment above Berwick, driving parallel along the base of a spur that runs out from the main escarpment, I noticed about 200m, away a buzzard making hard work of gaining height, into the strong wind.  What really caught my eye, was what was hanging from its talons?  I quickly reached for my binoculars and trained them on the bird; it had caught a middling-sized rabbit which was held by its back, the rabbit appearing to be looking down though in reality it was probably dead.  Having gained a considerable height, it then let the wind carry it away to the south-east and out of site over the spur.

Thursday, 2nd.  Whilst checking out a potential pony grazing site that the Trust had been approached about to the east of Woodingdean, I walked past a small, isolated group of elm trees high up on the wind-swept Downs just to the lee of the crest of the hill.  I last walked past these in the early 1970’s with a party being led by my great friend, David Harvey of the then Nature Conservancy Council.  I believe they might be of the Cornish clone of the smooth-leaved group?  Anyway, they are currently free of the dreaded dutch elm disease.

Saturday, 4th.  Whilst driving home, particularly in the Wilmington/Berwick area, I was amazed by the number of moths on the wing.  They were probably very largely, all a small whitish specie.  The last time i saw numbers like that was whilst driving one evening in the Brecon Beacons nearly 20 years ago.

I’ve often wondered about whether using such soaps was a good idea…

Mounting evidence suggests antibacterial soaps do more harm than good.


While the use of antibacterial soap is beneficial in certain situations, for everyday use, they can end up doing more harm than good. That’s the message from a growing number of studies casting doubt on the safety of these microbe-killing soaps, and now the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is demanding more data from the makers of antibacterial soap so it can make a final ruling.

These bacteria-killing soaps have been under close scrutiny for several years now, and have been banned in certain parts of the US. Some researchers believe their use is contributing to the rise of ‘superbugs’ – in other words, chemicals in antibacterial products are causing the bugs to mutate and become more resistant.

Add to this the evidence that antibacterial soap doesn’t actually clean your hands any better than normal soap and warm water – at least not if you’re only cleaning your hands for a couple of minutes at a time – and you can see why experts are saying it’s causing more harm than good.

A study presented earlier this month to the US Endocrine Society found that mother rats exposed to triclocarban – a chemical most commonly found in antimicrobial bar soaps – was passed onto their offspring. It was also altering the microbiomes of both mothers and babies, which is a worry, because we’re learning more and more about how crucial our internal bacteria are for our health.

Also under suspicion is triclosan, another antimicrobial widely used in hand soaps and many other products, from shampoos to cosmetics. A 2014 study found exposure to triclosan could make both humans and rats more susceptible to a potentially infectious type of bacteria called Staphylococcus.

More recent research has found triclosan affecting the microbiomes, diversity, and community structure of zebrafish.

If that wasn’t enough bad news for antibacterial soaps, other studies are looking at their impact on the wider environment.

Two recent studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin found that both triclosan and triclocarban interfered with microbial communities that break down sewage, reducing their effectiveness, and encouraged bacteria to become more resistant to drugs.

The FDA is expected to make a decision in September about whether these antimicrobials should be banned from all soap products. While they’re technically safe, they might not be doing us or the environment around us much good. In the meantime, you could consider replacing the antibacterial handwash you keep in the kitchen or bathroom with just plain, old soap.

“We want to slow the proliferation of antibiotic-resistant bacteria so that our current antibiotics can continue to help medical patients,” said one of the team from Marquette University, Dan Carey. “If using hand soap without antimicrobials can help, I think it would be worth it to try and change consumer behaviour.”

Elm Tree and the Lone Goldfinch

I took a trip today into Brighton for a wander around…

From the bus on the way back, I thought I glimpsed one of my (now almost rare) former elm ‘flock.’  It stands in the middle of a 70’s development to the south of Lewes prison and its owner, a Miss ? used phone me most years to ask if Mark or I would carry out an inspection and also to enquire whether she should have any pruning work carried out upon it.

If I was looking at the same tree, I could clearly see where she had spent money on having a limited crown reduction carried out years ago but no attention in recent years in evidence, so guess she’s moved on, perhaps to the next world…  [I was Dutch Elm Supervisor for East Sussex CC between 1997 and 2004 while working for the Sussex Downs Conservation Board. Sadly the scheme has since gone belly up].

Earlier, while walking along Western Road, the air filled with the drone of passing busses, I noticed a high-pitched trilling sound. Upon looking across the road, I noticed an apparently solitary male goldfinch 30 feet up in a roadside tree singing his heart out.  Seemed rather surreal!

British Wildlife Abstracts

Items from the April edition of  British Wildlife magazine.

SOMERSET LEVELS.  £750K awarded from the Postcode Lottery to a project aiming to reduce runoff from farmland in the upper catchment of rivers which drain in to the Somerset Levels.  It will takeover from where the Parrett Catchment Project left off after EU funding ran out in 2007.  Will this have any lasting success?  More maize cultivation and larger machinery being used on poor ground conditions.

After the 2013-14 flooding on the Levels, a recent report states that the effects on wildlife were not as great as expected.  The more established grasslands recovered well, unlike more recently created grasslands which in some cases were completely destroyed.

DREDGING.  a number of NGO’s are concerned that new rules being considered by the Coalition which will relax the conditions on the dredging of watercourses by landowners, will undo attempts put in place to improve the water environment.

MY WILD LIFE.  My Wild Life is a new Wildlife Trusts’ campaign project aiming to celebrate the importance of nature to people.  Website –  or   on social media  #MyWildLife

ASH DIEBACK.  Ash dieback is spreading with the disease now found at almost 1,000 sites across the UK.  See map at   East Anglia and south-east England remain the hotspots with also a hotspot in north-west England.  [Shows that Kent and north-east Sussex are quite badly affected].