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.

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 held 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.”

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.”

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