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Scottish Juniper Day

On the 15th of March - National Juniper Day, Plantlife Scotland are looking for volunteers to help them record the health of juniper throughout Scotland over the coming months.

March 10 2014

Scotland’s juniper is in a critical state. Over the last two years a deadly fungal disease (Phytophthora austrocedrae) has been having a potentially devastating effect on the ancient gin-giving bush, and it continues to face a number of other significant threats. Juniper has been lost from a quarter of areas where it was previously found across the UK and Plantlife are deeply concerned about its future.

“Juniper with its blueish green needles and green or black berries is easy to identify" says Deborah Long from Plantlife Scotland. "Today is National juniper day and we are asking people to help us from now until September to complete a survey form every time they see juniper in Scotland."

"If you are planning to go out walking then this is the ideal opportunity for you to take part. We are especially interested in any orange or brown bushes, which could indicate infection by Phytophthora austrocedrae – although other causes, such as frost or grazing animals, could be to blame. If such symptoms are seen people should document this on their survey form but ensure they either keep out of the area altogether or, if that is not possible, keep well away from such bushes. We would also ask people to avoid wet areas and clean mud thoroughly from their boots, equipment and animals when they leave,”

Juniper’s decline in Scotland is also due to combination of ageing bushes, many are over 100 years old, so produce few viable seeds. Unsuitable grazing regimes prevent germination and suppress seedlings while the locally booming rabbit and vole populations devour juvenile plants.

Recent juniper studies in Scotland show:

  • 40% of surveyed juniper sites in Scotland had fewer than 10 plants. Small populations are more likely to go extinct.
  • Seedlings were recorded at only 15% of sites for common juniper. Without seedlings, populations will die out.
  • 67% of recorded plants were mature / old or dead. Unless the surrounding land is managed in a way to enable these mature plants to set seed, these populations will die out.

Plantlife are able to carry out this survey thanks to funding from Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage. Juniper is the key contributor to the flavour of gin, so the charity is hoping people will also raise a G&T to their combined efforts today!  And, appropriately enough, a gin firm has also stepped in to support the survey.  No.3 London Dry Gin will be offering a complimentary bottle to the senders of the first twenty survey forms received.

Supported by No.3 Berry Bros & Rudd Gin

Kindly supported by No.3 London Dry Gin.

Mike Mackenzie from No.3’s Stirling-based distributor Maxxium UK, said: “Juniper is very much at the heart of No.3, so it’s entirely appropriate that we support this crucial project.” 

Last year as part of an initiative to protect threatened species in Scotland, MSP’s offered their political support by becoming “Species Champions”. Murdo Fraser is the species champion for juniper and hopes people will help Plantlife protect juniper by carrying out a survey.

"For me, it was a natural choice to become ‘species champion’ for Juniper" he said. "Familiar to Scots for millennia, juniper, and its survival within Scotland, represents the spirit and determination of Scots who throughout the ages have helped develop and shape many features of the modern world. In April, I visited a key juniper testing site in my constituency of Mid-Scotland and Fife. We discussed current efforts to protect and sustain wild juniper in Scotland.  As a vital component of the biodiversity of Scotland’s native woodlands it is important that we continue with our current efforts to ensure its survival."