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Scottish Juniper Survey

Plantlife Scotland is calling on people to take part in a new survey which will help determine the health of the ancient gin giving juniper bush that is under attack.

June 14 2013

Juniper berries © Tim Wilkins/Plantlife

Juniper berries © Tim Wilkins/Plantlife

Juniper is in serious trouble.  One of only three native conifers in Britain, not only does it face a deadly fungal disease (Phytophthora austrocedrae) it has also disappeared from over a third of Britain where it was previously found. Plantlife Scotland is now working with the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage to find exactly how the juniper population in Scotland has been affected, and they need the public’s help.

Deborah Long from Plantlife Scotland says “juniper with its blueish green needles and green or black berries is easy to identify. We are asking people to help us by completing a survey form every time they see Juniper in Scotland. If however you notice any orange or brown bushes, there may be a risk of infection by Phytophthora austrocedrae. If this happens people should document this on their survey form but ensure they do not walk around the area and clean mud thoroughly from their boots and equipment”

Juniper’s decline in Scotland has been due to a combination of ageing bushes (many are over a century old, so producing fewer viable seeds), under-grazing (which prevents germination and suppresses seedlings) and locally booming rabbit and vole populations (which are voracious consumers of juvenile plants).

  • Juniper is an important part of Scotland’s landscape and culture:
  • The fragrant wood was used as firewood as it burns well. It is also said to burn with less smoke and therefore was the preferred fuel for illegal whisky stills. 
  • Juniper’s aromatic berries give gin its distinctive flavour, and are regularly used as an ingredient in game dishes. 
  • The prickly boughs were turned to advantage in the past and used as a substitute for barbed wire.
  • The many medicinal qualities of juniper mean that in the Highlands in the past, it was used to treat almost every ailment. Oil extracted from juniper has an ancient reputation as an abortifacient – which perhaps explains another of its names, bastard’s bane. 

Take part in the survey.