Gin saved as juniper is added to national seed bank

Gin is to be saved for posterity after it was announced that juniper, the spirit’s main ingredient, is to be added to the UK’s national seed bank.

Gin, ever the friend of tonic, will prevail thanks to the UK National Tree Seed Project

Horticultural experts from the UK National Tree Seed Project have collected and preserved seeds of juniper plants gathered from different parts of the country. The seeds will be stored in the Millennium Seed Bank in Wakehurst, Sussex.

The project has been working to conserve native juniper in response to its being threatened by a deadly fungus, phytophthora austrocedri, which has caused extensive damage to juniper plants in parts of Scotland, as the BBC has reported.

By storing the juniper seeds, the project, run by the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, hopes to prevent juniper from falling into extinction. In the appropriate controlled conditions, seeds can be preserved and remain viable for hundreds of years.

Gin sales have enjoyed a boom in recent years. As reported by db in December, the Wine and Spirit Trade Association (WSTA) hailed 2016 as the “Year of Gin” after the category’s stunning successes at home and abroad.

Domestically sales passed the £1 billion mark in October 2016, while in the same month the trade body reported that exports of gin had grown 166% by value since 2000, today representing 11% of all spirits exports from the UK.

Juniper, gin’s essential ingredient, is under threat from the deadly fungus P austrocedri

While there is no suggestion that juniper is under immediate threat of extinction, UK National Tree Seed Project project officer Simon Kallow called the project’s measure to preserve juniper seeds as “a type of insurance policy”, which would also enable people to conduct research and conservation work related to juniper.

Since it began in 2013, the project has ‘banked’ 5.8 million seeds from 6,500 UK trees. Juniper has become the project’s priority owing to the threat posed by P austrocedri.

P austrocedri was first reported in the UK in 2011 and infected trees have since been found at sites across Scotland and the north of England, according to the Forestry Commission. The pathogen primarily attacks juniper roots, killing vascular tissue (phloem) and forming lesions which extend up into the lower stem. Eventually the tree will be killed by girdling of the main stem.

“We prioritise this group because it is the most threatened and also has the largest distribution, some rare, some common,” Kallow told the BBC.

“It was completed first, largely because our partners at the Forestry Commission worked hard to collect it from many populations.”

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