The future of gin is safe, thanks to the UK National Tree Seed Project, who have collected juniper seeds to help conserve the declining berry.
Juniper is an essential ingredient in all gins, in fact, it’s the only ingredient that must be present for a spirit to be called gin. However, the future of British gin has been under threat for a couple of years now due to a fungus like disease, Phytophthora austrocedri, which has been devastating wild juniper populations.
But thanks to the heroic efforts of the UK National Tree Seed Project, you can look forward to a gin-filled future. Set up by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, the UK National Tree Seed Projects aims to collect seeds from UK tree species to preserve British woodlands, saving our favourite tipple in the process.
Once collected, seeds are stored in The Millennium Seed Bank in Wakehurst, Sussex. There the juniper seeds will be kept in jars in giant freezers at -20C where they will stay alive for hundreds of years.
To date the project has collected and banked 5.8 million seeds from 6,500 UK trees since May 2013. Juniper is the first species to be collected in full with every variety of British juniper now catalogued.
Asked why juniper trees were singled out for special treatment, Project officer Simon Kallow answered that: “We prioritise this group because it is the most threatened and also has the largest distribution, some rare, some common." No word on whether or not Mr Kallow is a G&T fan.
Dr Shelagh McCartan from Forest Research, which is involved in the UK National Tree Seed Project, said: "Collecting viable seeds from juniper is not always easy and the berries we harvested from 43 different populations throughout Britain will not only play an important part in this conservation work but help us understand the challenges facing this iconic tree species."
As well as disease, juniper which is important not just for gin but for supporting a range of wildlife, is facing other pressures; including fragmented populations and difficulties regenerating successfully; old trees and shrubs produce fewer seeds and young plants are eaten by deer and rabbits.
It takes up to 2 years for the berries that are crucial for gin to mature on the branch. Juniper berries give gin its distinctive dry piney flavour and all of the juniper used in gin distilling comes from wild plants.
Although this project will not solve any of the dangers facing juniper, a permanent seed bank is still great news for gin lovers. It ensures the plants do not become extinct and should be a huge resource for ongoing conservation efforts.
So, raise your glass to the folks behind the UK National Tree Seed Project, they’ve earned a drink.
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