The common juniper plants currently under threat in the Grey Hill Grasslands Nature Reserve of South Ayrshire have had a new batch of cuttings taken from them as part of the significant, two-year programme, which is currently underway. Launched by the Scottish Wildlife Trust and Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) in July last year, the Ayrshire Juniper Recovery Project has been instigated and funded with a £12,840 grant from the charity committee of the independent, family-owned distiller, William Grant & Sons, producers of Hendrick’s Gin.
With tomorrow (Saturday 15th March) seeing a spotlight fall on the fate of Juniperus communis across the UK with National Juniper Day, experts and volunteers from the Ayrshire Juniper Recovery Project entered into the spirit by wearing Venetian plague doctor masks to conduct their latest work at the nature reserve. The masks, first created in 1629 by Italian doctors and filled with juniper berries in a bid for immunity from the black plague, are recognised by their trademark elongated nose.
Taken yesterday, the 750 cuttings will be processed by experts from the Scottish Wildlife Trust and SRUC, along with a handful of invaluable volunteers who are committed to rejuvenating this native species in Ayrshire and Scotland. Two rounds of precious juniper cuttings have already been taken from the Grey Hill Grasslands colonies last year and results are looking positive, with a healthy 90% survival rate from the cuttings taken in November.
The aims of the initiative are two-fold: Firstly, to prevent the further decline of, and to expand, existing stands of juniper and secondly to increase the number of juniper stands overall. The knowledge gained from the project and collated by students of the SRUC will also be made freely available and contribute to other juniper conservation projects throughout Scotland.
Commenting on the project, Peter Gordon, Director, William Grant & Sons, said: “The work to date of both the Scottish Wildlife Trust and SRUC in implementing an ambitious action plan has been exceptional and we look forward to seeing the cuttings continue to grow with a view to replanting on the Grey Hill Grasslands in the years to come. It would be fantastic to see a native colony so close to our gin distillery flourish once again.”
Led by Gill Smart, Scottish Wildlife Trust Reserves Manager for South West Scotland and Ian Cornforth, Lecturer in Countryside Management at the Ayr Campus of Scotland’s Rural College and supported by Jamie Single, Caledonian Tree Company and John Hunter, Stairway Trees, the first phase of the work began in July 2013. Students and volunteers conducted a survey of the site and took cuttings from the indigenous plants at Grey Hill Grasslands for growing at three separate nurseries belonging to Scottish Wildlife Trust, SRUC and Stairway Nursery. A second round of cuttings was taken in November 2013 and this weekend will see the third batch of cuttings taken from the selected juniper bushes on Thursday processed at various nurseries. These carefully nurtured cuttings will eventually be re-planted at Grey Hill Grasslands in approximately two seasons time. [Full details of the two-year programme available upon request.]
Commenting on the yesterday’s work, Gill Smart, said: “We had a few sheep giving us curious looks as we went about our work with these rather unusual masks on. Despite the fun, there’s a serious job being done. The future for Scottish wildlife hinges on us protecting valuable, and restoring degraded, habitats. The first two rounds of cuttings are showing positive results and we are confident that the work here will have a lasting impact on the native juniper colonies of South Ayrshire, which has suffered from overgrazing and land use change over the years.”
“Our students have a fantastic opportunity to garner first-hand experience with a programme that has sustainable land management at its core. There are numerous elements to the project that will provide huge value to their studies”, added Ian Cornforth.