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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 14:58 GMT
Mountaineers to rescue juniper
By Adrian Pitches
BBC environment correspondent

Many junipers are now too old to breed well (Image: Bob Gibbons/Plantlife)
It's immortalised on gin bottles - and in song - but Britain's only native evergreen shrub is just clinging on to existence.

But clinging on could be the best chance of survival for the Juniper juniperus communis as inaccessible crags are its last refuge from marauding sheep.

So much so that mountaineers in the English Lake District are now planting juniper bushes on ledges that the National Park's huge sheep population cannot reach.

To be successful these crags need to be sheep-free
Phil Taylor, Lake District National Park
Sheep munch on the leaves of juniper but people are far more interested in the dark blue berries which are an ingredient of gin. Indeed, the plant is lovingly portrayed on the label of one major gin bottler.

In bygone times, juniper wood was burnt to produce charcoal for gunpowder.

More recently Jennifer Juniper was a hit for British skiffle artist Donovan in 1968 but since the 1960s the hardy shrub has been disappearing from its favoured moorland habitat in northern uplands.

In Cumbria, juniper has its own Biodiversity Action Plan with a commitment to expand the area of juniper cover in the county.

Now the mountain search and rescue team from Kendal (home of the world famous mint cake) are helping the Lake District National Park Authority and Friends of the Lake District to carry out some experimental planting of juniper on crags below Great Howe at Sadgill at the top of Longsleddale.

Protective fences for trees and shrubs on the high fells can be intrusive, so this experiment will see whether juniper can be established on crags without fencing.

"To be successful these crags need to be sheep-free, hence the involvement of Kendal Mountain Search and Rescue to reach those parts of the crags sheep don't reach," said Lake District National Park Authority ecologist Phil Taylor.

If it works, this imaginative, fence-free technique could be used at other suitable locations in the National Park.

Team Leader of Kendal Mountain Search and Rescue Team, Andy Dell, said: "We welcome the opportunity to practise our mountain skills and at the same time contribute to the improvement of wildlife of the Lake District fells."

Free gin for UK juniper spotters
30 Aug 04 |  Science/Nature
Genetic plan to save the juniper
14 Sep 01 |  UK News

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