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Juniper disease threatens gin production

The British gin industry could be facing a production crisis as a deadly fungus tears through the British countryside, leaving the native juniper berry’s future in “serious trouble”.

The disease affecting the Juniper bush is threatening the future of gin

The Phytophthora austrocedrae fungus has been spotted on juniper bushes in the north of England and Scotland, and could effectively wipe out the delicate population of native juniper bushes from the UK.

As reported by The Spirits Business in February, many English counties have already lost up to 70% of their juniper through eradication of their natural habitats, but the bushes are now at risk of being wiped out completely if the fungus spreads.

“Juniper has been steadily declining over the last few decades and without action now, it actually faces extinction across much of lowland England within 50 years,” said species recovery coordinator at Plantlife Tim Wilkins.

Most gin producers in the UK source their juniper – the spirit’s dominant botanical – from Europe, although a handful are still using juniper from within the UK.

Carl Reavey, of Bruichladdich distillery on Islay, which produces The Botanist gin, told the Daily Mail: “There is very, very little juniper left on Islay and the vast majority of what we use comes from Italy.”

The main concern is if the fungus spreads from the UK to the European continent. The crisis has forced the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to investigate the issue.

To help monitor the level of juniper in the UK, Plantlife Scotland, in conjunction with the Forestry Commission and Scottish Natural Heritage, is asking the public to complete a survey – downloadable from the group’s website – every time they spot juniper growing in the countryside.

“We are asking people to help us by completing a survey form every time they see Juniper in Scotland,” said Deborah Long from Plantlife Scotland. “If however you notice any orange or brown bushes, there may be a risk of infection by Phytophthora austrocedrae. If this happens people should document this on their survey form but ensure they do not walk around the area and clean mud thoroughly from their boots and equipment.”

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