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LIFE+ Elm (2014-19): Restoration of Iberian elms (Ulmus minor and U. laevis) in the Tagus River basin.
(LIFE 13 BIO/ES/00556)

Elm groves are included as subtype 2.3 in the habitat 92A0 of Directive 92/43/EEC relative to the conservation of natural habitats and of wild fauna and flora. They suffer a deep degradation caused by different alterations of their habitat and the introduction of Dutch elm disease (DED). The project aims to apply the knowledge and genetic resources generated during the 29 years of the Spanish Elm Conservation and Breeding Program (SECBP) and its participation in the project EU RESGEN 78 “Conservation of Genetic Resources of European Elms” to restore the ecological role and functions played by elm groves in the past.

The SECBP has been led and developed by the Technical University of Madrid (UPM) and the Spanish Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Environment (MAGRAMA). Two of the main milestones of the SECBP have been obtaining seven elm clones resitant to DED and discovering that Ulmus laevis is native to the Iberian Peninsula.


This Life+ Project is led and coordinated by the School of Forest Engineering (Technical University of Madrid). Other institutions that participate and support this project are the Dirección General de Desarrollo Rural y Política Forestal and the Confederación Hidrográfica del Tajo, both belonging to the Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentación y Medio Ambiente, and the city councils of San Sebastián de los Reyes and Aranjuez, both located in Madrid province.


  • Total budget: 1,348,799 €
  • European Union funding: 49%
  • UPM funding: 37%
  • Ayuntamiento de Aranjuez funding: 5%
  • Ayuntamiento de San Sebastián de los Reyes funding: 4%
  • Dirección General de Desarrollo Rural y Política Forestal (MAGRAMA) funding: 4%
  • Confederación Hidrográfica del Tajo funding: 1%


The main objectives of this project are two: (1) Reintroducing Iberian elms in riparian habitats of EU importance (SCI and SPA) belonging to the Tajo River basin. Seven clones of resistant Ulmus minor trees to DED, obtained by the Spanish Elm Breeding Program, will be planted. European white elm saplings (U. laevis) from two relict populations of the same watershed will be also planted. Species selection for each area of activity will take into account soil preference of these elms; U. minor will be planted in calcareous areas and U. laevis in siliceous terrains. (2) Integrating the conservation of Iberian elms and their biodiversity in the Forest Management Plans and in the Nature Protection Legislation.

To accomplish these general objectives, three specific objectives are planned, including innovative aspects in the field of plant production and breeding of elm genotypes resistant to DED:

– Developing in vitro propagation techniques of seven U. minor clones resistant to DED, allowing the use of these clones as forest reproductive material.

– Achieving stable and representative communities of the elm grove habitat in natural areas for evaluating and controlling the environmental adaptation of the clones and seedlings planted.

– Transferring the results of the project to society through publications, a website and social media. We also intend to recover the use of elms as an ornamental shade tree in urban landscaping.

Expected results

The present project aims to return the field elm to an important role in the Spanish forest landscape through its reintroduction in riparian habitats, and to preserve and expand the genetic resources of European white elm in the Iberian Peninsula, where only some relict populations still survive. It is also an objective to continue with elm breeding against DED, in order to increase the genetic diversity of the species. To achieve these goals, we expect the following outcomes:

  • Restoration of the Iberian elms in 290 ha of riparian lands of the Tajo River basin. Around 9,000 native U. minor trees will be planted on calcareous soils, representing seven clones catalogued by the Spanish Environmental Administration because of their resistance to DED, along with 7,000 seedlings of U. laevis from two relict populations of the Tajo River basin, on siliceous soils.
  • A wide genetic variability is required among the resistant elm genotypes, therefore this project intends to further the search of large healthy elms all over Spain. To accomplish this, the information relative to live large elms that citizens can provide through the website of the project will be essential.
  • The elaboration of a comprehensive action handbook for integrating the Iberian elms in Forest Management Plans and in the Nature Conservation Legislation. This handbook will be a tool where managers and foresters can easily access all the information relative to elm propagation and restoration.
  • Achieve a good ecological functioning of the restored communities, and obtaining various socio-economic benefits in the action areas.
  • Awareness by the society of the importance of elm recovery as a key element of our natural and cultural heritage.
  • The construction of the website which will allow public engagement with Life+ Elms project. This website will provide all the information relative to the project and its progress. The website, together with the Facebook and Twitter accounts, will be key elements of the project as it enables citizens to learn about elm conservation and restoration.