RBGE arboriculturists helping save Bhutan's sacred cypress

Vulnerable natural cypress forests in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan may soon be facing a more secure future thanks to a new conservation partnership between local organisations and Scotland-based horticulturists.

RBGE staff work with conservationists in Bhutan to save the Sacred Cyprus. Image: Supplied
RBGE staff work with conservationists in Bhutan to save the Sacred Cyprus. Image: Supplied

A team from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) is working with local officials in Bhutan's Dangchu Valley to create a conservation programme for the Tsenden, Bhutan's national tree.

Cupressus torulosa, referred to as the "Sacred Cypress", is essential in the construction and restoration of sacred temples.

Horticulturists Neil McCheyne and David Gray, experienced arboriculturists from RBGE's Benmore Botanic Garden, in Argyll, and Tom Christian, who works for RBGE's International Conifer Conservation Programme and Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust, are working with partners in Bhutan on the programme.

Christian explained: "The Dangchu Valley is an important ecosystem and natural resource as it contains the largest known natural stands of Tsenden anywhere in the world. However, the forest is coming under increasing pressure as the result of requirements for the construction and restoration of important cultural structures. Therefore, it is essential that these forests are very carefully managed if there is to be a sustainable supply in the future.

"The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh works in over 30 countries around the world and it is very encouraging when we come across projects such as this, where it has been initiated by local people and supported by officials including Mayor Sonam Dorji and forestry officer Namgay Tshering."

Work in hand included seed collection by specialist tree climbers, establishment of a tree nursery, and the planting of community plantations to cultivate young trees and create sustainable timber supplies for the future, Mayor Dorji said.

The intercontinental partnership is also surveying the natural stands of Tsenden in Dangchu Valley to determine the area, health, the extent of any regeneration and to inform future management recommendations. Data collected will inform an International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) conservation assessment for Tsenden.

The ultimate aim is to conserve a critical mass of natural Tsenden forests, while continuing to sustainably source timber for essential needs from other areas. Findings can also be used to inform people from Bhutan and beyond about the tree and the forests where it grows, by installing interpretation at sites such the Royal Botanic Garden Serbithang.

RBGE has got involved thanks to funding sourced by London-based Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI). Secretary general Dr Paul Smith explained: "BGCI wanted to fund the conservation and restoration of Tsenden because of the tree's cultural significance and because the people of Dangchu care about its future. We were particularly impressed that the people of Dangchu wish to plant this tree not for themselves, but for their grandchildren."

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