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Scottish juniper in ‘critical state’ due to fungus

Juniper plants, the predominant botanical used in gin, are being “killed off” by a deadly disease in Scotland, a new report has warned.

Populations of Scottish juniper are in a “critical state” due to the emergence of a “deadly” fungus

Amateur conservationist group Plantlife has released a “citizen science” study showing that Scottish juniper is in a “critical state” due to the emergence of a new fungal disease, called phytophthora austrocedrae.

Plantlife said it is “deeply concerned” by the rapid decline of the plant, a quarter of which has been lost from areas where it was previously found.

The group said the populations of the plant have been living on Scotland’s mountains, moors, dunes and woodlands since the last ice age.

“Juniper is important, not just for its cultural value, but also because it provides food for wildlife such as the juniper shield bug – a key native invertebrate, important cover for game bird and shelter for stock,” said Plantlife.

“What’s more, there is a growing interest in locally sourced juniper for Scottish gin distillers, which is reinvigorating the use of Scottish juniper.”

According to the group, many juniper bushes are over a century old and are unable to seed and repopulate due to “land management practices” and afforestation.

Almost 80% of Scottish juniper recorded in 2014, was either mature, old or dead. Meanwhile, young plants are vulnerable to vole grazing.

In addition to these challenges, new sighting of phytophthora austrocedrae, an air-borne fungal pathogen, are regularly being recorded.

The fungus has so far only been discovered in Argentina and the UK.

It is not yet know how it arrived in the UK, but the fungus needs wet conditions to thrive and once it has infected bushes, they turn orange and then brown.

“Volunteer citizen science surveys are helping us understand what is happening to juniper in Scotland,” said Deborah Long, head of Plantlife Scotland.

“We know juniper populations are struggling, but they now face an additional threat. It is thanks to these citizen scientists who have been helping us monitor the species, that we can start working with land owners to help juniper communities become more resistant to the threats they face, including this new disease.

“We need to ensure juniper has a future. It needs active conservation effort and intervention now for it to survive.”

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