Plants threatened with extinction thrown a lifeline

Project manager Matthew Thomas with the large female juniper bush and the much small male, left
Project manager Matthew Thomas with the large female juniper bush and the much small male, left

JUNIPER plants on the brink of extinction are being given a lifeline by a gin firm.

A tiny population of the rare plants is cared for by the Steyning Downland Scheme in two locations, Steyning Coombe and on a verge by Bostal Road.

No.3 London Dry Gin has awarded the charity a £1,000 grant to help save the precious plants.

Matthew Thomas, project manager of the downland scheme, is working with Plantlife, an organisation dedicated to saving wild plants and their habitats, to protect the juniper plants.

Tim Wilkins, species recovery co-ordinator at Plantlife, explained: “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.

“Such a calamity would represent more than the loss of a single plant type - it supports more than 40 species of insect and fungus that cannot survive without it.

“Plantlife has launched various juniper conservation projects across the UK but, especially with this new disease threat, we’re absolutely thrilled that No.3 is bolstering our efforts in these ways.”

In Sussex alone, juniper declines of 69 per cent have been recorded, but the cash will help protect the collection of four plants on Steyning Coombe.

Excessive rabbit grazing is partly to blame for the decline of the gin-giving plants, as well as a lack of habitat for young plants.

Now, a new and deadly disease, called Phytophthora austrocedrae, is on the horizon and experts fear it could wipe out juniper nationwide.

Mike Mackenzie, brand manager for No 3 London Dry Gin, said: “Juniper is very much at the heart of No.3, so it’s entirely appropriate that we support Plantlife’s activities in these ways.

“Their work in this area of conservation is second to none and we’re hopeful of healthy days ahead for West Sussex’s juniper.”

Mr Thomas explained the grant would fund a new fence around the precious plants.

The large female bush, on which the berries grow, is currently fenced off but the smaller male bush, vital for pollination, sits outside the fence.

Both will be protected by the new fence, which will be designed to keep rabbits and cattle away from the plants.