Nick Plants Elms at Covent Garden Market


The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers have planted a symbolic nine elms in Nine Elms, to mark a visit by its liverymen to New Covent Garden Market on June 22. Planting at New Covent Garden Market by the Fruiterers Livery Company will provide natural habitat for rare butterfly species.

The trees have been planted on a rewilding site to be known as the Butterfly Garden close to the entrance of the UK’s largest wholesale market for fruit, vegetables and flowers. They will not only add to the diversity and sustainability of the environment in Nine Elms, London’s newest district situated on the south bank of the River Thames between Vauxhall and Battersea, but also eventually play their natural role as host trees in the breeding cycle of one of the country’s threatened butterflies, the White-letter Hairstreak.

The elms were propagated and grown on our nursery here in Worcestershire. Our managing Director Nick Dunn said: “Elms were such an important part of the UK landscape in years past. Dutch Elm Disease (DED) was devastating for elms here in the 60s and 70s and consequently, a number of breeding programmes were established in Europe to develop a high degree of resistance to the disease.”

Many of these hybrids have been extremely successful, according to Dunn. “Our nursery has propagated two of these varieties, both of which are highly resistant to DED now and we believe they will continue to be resistant. Both of them – ‘Nanguen’ (selling name LUTЀCE) and Wingham – will be planted in Nine Elms. There have been a lot of new elms planted in the UK in recent years, but not that many in London and of course, it’s particularly apt that we can plant nine elms in Nine Elms.”

Elm conservation is one thing, of course, but providing a new home to a previously struggling butterfly adds a second interesting element to this story. Both Wingham and Nanguen are known to host the WLH butterfly, which was also threatened as a species by DED. The discovery of the White-letter Hairstreak on Nanguen was particularly significant as the tree has a very different periodicity from the reputedly favourite native host, wych elm, suggesting the insect is possessed of a considerable adaptability which could see it breeding on other high-resistance cultivars.

Hampshire butterfly conservationist Andrew Brookes said the planting in Nine Elms adds to others in the local area, as ‘New Horizon’ elms at Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens host the White-letter Hairstreak, as do wych elms at Battersea Park and, across the river, at Middle Temple Gardens. There are also nine elms once more on nearby Nine Elms Lane opposite the US Embassy after Wandsworth Council planted two young elms to replace the missing two, back in January 2019.

“The White-letter Hairstreak is a small, dark, butterfly, belonging to the same family as the little blues (Lycaenidae), but spends most of its time basking atop the elms once they (the trees) are sexually mature. This is important, as the caterpillars, hatching in early March, need elm flowers, and later seeds, for sustenance until the leaves flush. The females seem to have quite a capacity for dispersal; the butterfly is found in central Portsmouth, for instance, on an ancient roadside wych elm only a stone’s throw from Dickens’ birthplace.”

Laurence Olins, Master of the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers, who will make the ceremonial planting of the ninth elm at New Covent Garden Market on June 22nd said the livery company was delighted to be making such a relevant and potentially momentous donation to the country’s largest horticultural wholesale market. “This Market has been central to the food supply chain in London for more than 800 years and it was where I cut my own teeth in the fruit and vegetable industry,” said Olins. “It now lies at the heart of London’s newest district and is being redeveloped to retain its position a long way into the future and there could be nowhere more appropriate than here for us to plant these trees and hopefully restore a lost butterfly population in central London.

“As fruit and vegetable specialists, we understand the vital role that insects play in the sustainability of our production environments.”

For New Covent Garden Market, where the redevelopment programme will be completed in 2027, this is a great chance to give something back to the environment in which wholesalers ply their trade.

Jo Breare, General Manager of Covent Garden Market Authority, the landlord and management company of the market, said: “Sustainability and environmental responsibility are right at the top of our agenda as we develop a market fit for the long-term future. One of the changes we’ve seen in recent times is a welcome reduction in the amount of fruit and vegetables wasted in the supply chain, as people across the world have recognised our responsibility to the environment. New Covent Garden Market is a zero to landfill site now and the traders here are all working towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable future in everything that we do. We are constructing state-of-the-art energy-efficient buildings with energy-efficient equipment and the traders are all working towards greener, sustainable and energy-efficient equipment and vehicles as technological advances are being made.

“To plant these elms in such an appropriate place is a great gesture by the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers and we are all looking forward to welcoming the White-letter Hairstreak to the New Covent Garden Market community!”

New Covent Garden Market, which moved to Nine Elms from central London in 1974, dates all the way back to Medieval times.

New Covent Garden Market is London’s original and best fresh produce market. Its 175 small and medium sized businesses employ over 2,500 people. The market sees large volumes of exceptional quality produce pass through the site each night, finally finding its way onto the plates of diners in some of the capital’s top caterers.

New Covent Garden Flower Market is home to 20 world class floral wholesalers including two Royal Warrant holders who supply flowers and plants to the country’s most prestigious households. The Flower Market is at the heart of the floristry industry in London and beyond, supplying the majority of London’s independent florists, from high street retailers to high-end event companies and with the market’s flowers ending up in royal palaces, shops, market stalls, hotels, offices, parties, homes, weddings and funerals. 

The market has been feeding and flowering London for 800 years. Many of the traders at the market are third, fourth or even fifth generation and possess a level of global knowledge, experience and expertise that is hard to beat.

The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers has been in existence since before 1300 AD and stands 45th in order of precedence of the Livery Companies. 

Over the 700 years of our history, the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers has assumed a number of different roles.

In its earliest days, it was a classical medieval guild governing the fruit trade, maintaining quality, training apprentices, caring for its members and doing other charitable works. 

By late Victorian times, in common with most Livery Companies at that time, its connections with the trade all but disappeared, but the Company’s function as a City of London institution continued to flourish. 

During the 20th century, the Fruiterers returned to the Company and more than half of the current membership is engaged directly with the fruit industry.

About Nine Elms and Battersea

Nine Elms and Battersea have always been a critical part of London’s landscape. The area’s past is one of commerce and industry, its future is of enterprise, art, culture and living. 

This part of Wandsworth sits within the Vauxhall Nine Elms Battersea (VNEB) opportunity area running along the south bank of the Thames between Chelsea and Lambeth bridges.  

The opportunity area is being regenerated by Wandsworth and Lambeth councils working together with development partners. The transformation programme is extensive, including an extension of the Northern Line with two new stations at Battersea Power Station and Nine Elms that opened in September 2021, new parks, leisure, health and school facilities, and new public access to the Thames River Path. 

Battersea Power Station and the new US Embassy are located here, and development partners are building up to 20,000 new homes, a redeveloped New Covent Garden Market, business premises, shops and spaces for cultural exchange. The development is creating 25,000 new jobs.

The vision is a long-term one; to transform one of the capital’s last remaining industrial districts into an amazing place for Londoners old and new to call home. Today’s reality is an exciting one; new spaces and places coming to life every day.

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