21October2021

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Campaign to Save Wild Juniper - Philip Voice

Juniper is best known for its aromatic berries, which are prized for the flavour they impart to gin. In fact, the word ‘gin’ derives from genièvre or jenever - the French and Dutch words for juniper. Juniper is one of only three native conifers - the other two are yew and Scot’s pine - and was one of the first trees to colonise Britain after the last Ice Age. But today the wild juniper plant is in serious trouble.

Juniper has steadily declined over the last few decades and many counties in southern England have lost over 60 per cent of their juniper populations. In Scotland, the UK’s traditional stronghold for Juniper, it has been lost from nearly a quarter of areas it was previously found in.

There is no single cause for juniper decline in the lowlands, but loss of seedling habitat through under-grazing and the development of dense grassland and scrub, is the most widespread problem. Some colonies have also been affected by a shortage of viable seed, or were overrun with rabbits eating seedlings and damaging adult bushes.

A recent survey showed that many juniper populations are shrinking as bushes die of old age; nearly a quarter of sites surveyed in southern England supported just one bush. Many of the remaining bushes are over a century old and, unsurprisingly, not producing much viable seed, with 85% of sites surveyed containing no seedlings up to five years old.

Fungal disease

Juniper also faces a threat from a fungal infection called Phytophthora austrocedrae. Phytophthora austrocedrae is usually fatal, it has recently been confirmed in the wild in northern England and Scotland. The Food & Environment Research Agency (FERA) and the Forestry Commission are currently investigating.

For the next generation of juniper, good numbers of both male and female juniper bushes are needed at each site, plenty of viable seed and the right conditions for germination and growth of seedlings, free of hungry rabbits and grazing stock.

In common with the lowlands, in the uplands, many juniper populations are often too small to be viable. This is largely related to changes in land management practices over time, which have become less conducive to juniper.

Plantlife is working to help restore the fortunes of wild juniper. Landowners in lowland England can apply for a grant to improve habitat for juniper and encourage natural regeneration.

The future

In lowland England, 300 juniper seedlings are now growing at ten sites where existing juniper bushes were too old and incapable of reproducing. The new juniper plants have been helped to regenerate, including the harvesting of berries and sowing of seed – aiming to pep up the male/female ratios and help juniper to regenerate naturally in future.

Plantlife and its conservation partners report that many new seedlings have appeared. It’s still early days but these results provide hope that wild juniper won't be lost from our landscape.

Click here to see the map of southern England where juniper is being managed.

 

After starting my garden maintenance and landscaping business in 1984 and running it for 21 years I decided I needed a change of direction (probably a mid life crisis, no seriously! :-0) Together with my family, wife Donna, Son Henry and Daughter Fleur (not forgetting Hector the Black Labrador) I moved to France in search of an old farmhouse to renovate. In the interim period whilst waiting for the contract to go through I started writing a blog. Initially just to keep a diary for family and friends to keep up with our progress if they wished but then it occurred to me that there isn't a real time watcher of the landscape industry in the UK. I didn't want to waste my experience and experiences so I decided I could put all of this Juice to good use so I started Landscape Juice.

Source: Landscape Juice - Campaign to Save Wild Juniper - Philip Voice