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New 3-D image shows ancient elm in Beauly as it succumbs to Dutch elm disease

By Val Sweeney

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An image of the 3-D scan of the Beauly Elm.
An image of the 3-D scan of the Beauly Elm.

An ancient tree in Beauly – believed to be the oldest elm in Europe – has been laser-scanned in a ground-breaking venture.

The Beauly elm, an ancient wych (Scots) elm at the entrance to the ruins of Beauly Priory, is more than 800 years old but in recent years has been ravaged by Dutch elm disease.

As the last survivor of an avenue of elms, it has less than five per cent living material but remains an iconic sculptural element.

The Beauly Elm is more than 800 years old.
The Beauly Elm is more than 800 years old.

In recognition of its significance, a team from Historic Environment Scotland (HES) – which manages the site – has scanned the remaining section and turned it into a detailed 3-D model of the Beauly Elm so it can be viewed digitally for years to come.

Although the digital documentation team has previously laser-scanned buildings, it is the first time it has scanned a tree.

Sarah Franklin, HES’s landscape manager, said the organisation generally focused on the building environment and had not always appreciated trees formed part of the historic environment.

She said the Beauly elm – which pre-dated the building of the priory by Sir John Bisset of the Aird in 1230 for the monks of the Valliscaulian order – was hugely important to the site.

Medieval documents described the land granted to the monks and mentioned the elm tree standing at the entrance to the graveyard as one of the markers.

An image of the 3-D scan of the Beauly Elm.
An image of the 3-D scan of the Beauly Elm.

"It is older than the priory itself but we never gave it much thought of seeing the cultural significance in its own right to the priory and the village itself," Ms Franklin said.

"We monitor historic buildings for decay but we don’t do it with trees.

"This is our attempt to record the tree before we lose it so we have a visual record of what it looks like in situ.

"It is going to be really sad when we lose it."

Al Rawlinson, head of digital innovation at HES, led the project involving taking 1800 photographs from different angles and heights.

He said such techniques were used on buildings.

"It gives us good information of how things are changing and the impact of climate change on our properties and sites," he said.

"It is a fantastic way to allow people to interact and look at sites and objects in different ways."

He said the Beauly elm had been exciting and challenging.

"It was very challenging because we wanted to get the detail of all the branches and limbs and trees are quite susceptible to wind and movement," he said.

"But we were really impressed with how the model turned out."

Related story: One tree to rule them all

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