Lifeline for struggling junipers as Phytophthora looms

Juniper berries - image:Guttorm Flatabø
Juniper berries - image:Guttorm Flatabø

Wine and spirit merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, which owns the No.3 London Dry Gin brand, has donated £1,000 to conservation charity Plantlife to preserve a tiny wild population of juniper trees on the South Downs.

The money will be used to fence the plants off at the site, which is managed by the Steyning Downland Scheme, assisted by Plantlife.

Its species recovery co-ordinator Tim Wilkins said: "Juniper has been steadily declining over the last few decades and without action now, it actually faces extinction across West Sussex and much of lowland England within 50 years."

More than 40 species of insect and fungus depend on the low-growing shrubby trees, whose berries are traditionally used to flavour gin.

This is the latest of Plantlife's juniper conservation projects across the UK. Excessive browsing and habitat loss are blamed for the species' decline, but now plant health experts fear that the disease Phytophthora austrocedrae, first discovered in UK juniper in 2011, could wipe out the native population of the plant.

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