The next time you’re enjoying a refreshing gin & tonic remember to give thanks to Scotland’s gamekeepers for they are at the forefront of helping to protect and nurture the juniper plant which is used to flavour gin.A recent report published by PlantLife Scotland, a conservation organisation protecting the UK’s wild flowers, plants and fungi, indicated that juniper is in a critical state in Scotland. This has led to a joint effort between PlantLife Scotland and moorland managers to restore and protect Scotland’s rare juniper population.

Gamekeeper Ian Elliot of Hopes Estate, near Gifford, shows the juicer berry bushes on the estate which are harvested for gin.

The project benefits Scottish estates from the Borders to the Highlands who are receiving expert advice and funding to help save the iconic shrub.

The word ‘Gin’ derives from genièvre the French word for ‘juniper’; a prickly shrub in the cypress family which blooms with small yellow flowers, followed by berries that ripen over three years from a green colour to a juicy looking blue-black.

Although formerly very common in Britain, junipers large population areas have dwindled to alarming numbers and disappeared entirely in some regions. Its decline in Scotland has been due to a combination of ageing bushes; many are over a century old so produce few seeds, unsuitable grazing systems and booming populations of rabbits and voles.

Davie Black, Conservation Co-ordinator at PlantLife Scotland, said: “We have been consulting with several Scottish estates throughout Scotland to promote actions to reverse the decline of juniper. Activity so far has been extremely positive. Moorland managers have welcomed information and advice on targeting these particular species and we will be holding free workshops on Hopes Estate and also at Glen Tanar in the Highlands, to allow people to find out more on juniper growth and management options.”

Driving such projects and highlighting the conservation work taking place on Scottish estates is the Lammermuirs Moorland Group, a local organisation formed to showcase working life in the region.

Helen Savage, Co-ordinator of the Lammermuirs Moorland Group, added: “Such joint initiatives and the restoration work taking place in the region to save Scotland’s rare plant species is vital.

“Hopes Estate is a successful case in point, demonstrating that with access to funding and expert advice Scottish moorlands can play a key role in protecting plant life, habitats and a variety of species.”

Promoting juniper conservation work is an example of how the Gift of Grouse campaign is helping to raise awareness and understanding of moorland management and The Hopes Estate in East Lothian has been one of the leading groups in juniper restoration in Scotland.

Robbie Douglas Miller, owner of Hopes Estate, commented on the ongoing project: “The Lammermuirs have been identified as a Site of Special Scientific Interest for juniper shrubs. With the assistance of Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) we have entered in to a Scottish Rural Development Programme (SRDP) scheme allowing us to take grazing sheep off the hills during the winter to protect the plants.

“This is having a very positive impact on the juniper as the sheep tend to use it as shelter in cold and snowy conditions causing the main stems to become fractured or broken. In addition we have a management agreement with SNH to control the rabbit population which reached epidemic proportions on the moorlands here.

“These combined actions greatly reduce the grazing pressure on the juniper and the damaging impact of rabbits burrowing around the roots of the plants. We have also fenced off areas of the moorland and planted around 5000 new juniper plants to form new clumps of juniper in the future.”

With Scottish gin growing in popularity the protection of juniper plants is also welcomed by companies such as the iconic Strathleven Distillers whose Chairman, Ricky Christie, commented: “We are delighted to produce a Scottish gin and we’d be even happier if we could source more juniper berries in Scotland. Scottish estates produce the berries from their moorlands and if more of this happens then that would be in everyone’s interests.”

To book your place or for more information regarding the juniper workshops taking place on Hopes Estate (27th November) and Glen Tanar (18th November) please contact Davie Black from PlantLife Scotland on tel: 01786 469778.

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