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Juniper: Down the hatch?
Juniper is an important part of our ancient landscape and culture – one of the first trees to colonise Britain after the last Ice Age - but today it is in serious trouble.
Juniper has steadily declined over the last few decades, and many counties in southern England have lost 60-70 per cent of their juniper populations. This spring, Plantlife is launching a new conservation project and survey across the lowlands of England to help save this charismatic species.
Losing juniper means more than losing a single species:
Without action now, juniper faces extinction across much of lowland England by 2060. This loss would mean more than the loss of a single plant: juniper supports more than 40 species of insect and fungus that cannot survive without it.
The special conditions thought to be necessary for juniper seeds to germinate are also beneficial to a host of other wild plants, many of which are also under threat.By focusing on the habitat, our new project aims to help many of these species too.
Why is it in decline?
A Plantlife survey of 44,000 upland junipers in Scotland, North Wales, Cumbria and Northumberland in 2004-5 found that conservation action was needed to help junipers to regenerate, as so many populations were small and ageing. Although 44,000 sounds like a lot of juniper, only 13% of sites had juniper seedlings present. ‘Sex ratios need improving’ was an unusual conclusion of the report, as the isolation of male and female juniper bushes could severely limit pollination. The situation is made worse as most juniper stands comprise old bushes of similar age. Although these populations can persist for a long time, they can decline quite suddenly when all bushes start to die of old age at around the same time.
New project in lowland England
Juniper across lowland England is also in severe decline and our project is taking action to address this. By trialling three novel techniques we hope to bolster the most endangered populations across the chalk and limestone country of lowland southern England.
More than 30 project sites have been chosen for a range of conservation measures, including large-scale pilot management, experimental seedling shelters and - where colonies have all but died out – numbers are being bolstered through the propagation of cuttings.
How you can help