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Theft of juniper leaves bitter taste for Plantlife and the National Trust
A thief has left a conservation project in jeopardy after taking a dozen newly-planted juniper bushes from Harting Down nature reserve near Chichester in West Sussex.
March 22 2011
Conservation charity Plantlife is working in partnership with the National Trust, which owns the reserve, to boost juniper at the site.
The work at Harting Down is part of a wider conservation project to save juniper from becoming extinct in southern England.
Juniper at Harting Down
Renowned for its unique chalk grassland and juniper scrub habitat, Harting Down is a 500-acre common and nature reserve owned and managed by the National Trust. However, like many sites in southern England where juniper was formerly much more abundant, the remaining junipers at Harting Down are ageing and unable to rejuvenate without conservation action. Harting Down was selected as one of the sites for an ambitious project led by Plantlife, which aims to save juniper from becoming extinct in southern England.
Saving juniper from extinction in southern England
The Plantlife project began in 2009, focusing on the chalk and limestone country across the counties of southern England. Recent data indicate that on average juniper has declined by 60% across these counties and is now extinct in six. Juniper is one of only three native conifers in Britain, and is an important part of our ancient landscape and culture, having been one of the first trees to colonise after the last Ice Age.
Juniper’s aromatic berries are prized for the flavour they impart to gin, and the berries are also used in cooking, particularly to flavour game dishes. Its disappearance represents more than the loss of a single species: it is host to over 40 species of insect and fungus that are almost entirely dependent on it.
Without conservation action, this charismatic species could be extinct across southern England by 2060. More than 30 juniper sites were chosen – including Harting Down – where different management techniques have been trialled over the last two years to help this iconic species, including scrub clearance, creation and sowing of ground scrapes, planting of young junipers and protecting junipers and their berries from rabbits.
Theft of 12 junipers
"It is hard to believe that someone would take these bushes for their own personal gain when juniper is clearly part of the South Downs and desperately needs a helping hand."
Twelve young junipers were planted at Harting Down in February, following the clearance of dense scrub from an area over the winter of 2009/2010. The young plants were small, and each had a special shelter to protect it from rabbits and other small animals. National Trust community warden Fiona Scully was checking on the junipers regularly and on her second visit to the site following the planting, she found they had all disappeared. Fortunately the guards were left intact and so can be re-used but there was no trace of the young junipers.
Simon Craig, National Trust site manager at Harting Down nature reserve said: “'We are quite surprised and disappointed by the loss of these juniper plants. It's a real shame after all the hard work of nurturing the cuttings and planting them out to restore the declining population at Harting Down.”
“Harting Down is an important site for juniper" agreed Tim Wilkins, Plantlife’s Species Recovery Coordinator. "In fact the presence of the juniper is one of the key reasons this site was notified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. It is hard to believe that someone would take these bushes for their own personal gain when juniper is clearly part of the landscape and heritage value of the South Downs and desperately needs a helping hand.”
Plantlife’s Lowland England Juniper Project is funded by Natural England, Biffaward and Buckinghamshire County Council.
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