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Friday, 14 September, 2001, 05:21 GMT 06:21 UK
Genetic plan to save the juniper
Juniper trees
Only two juniper trees remain in the New Forest
Cuttings have been taken from an ancient tree in the New Forest to ensure the survival of the species.

There are only two juniper trees left in the area, one of which the Forestry Commission describes as "relic".

Curators from the world-famous pinetum at Begbury in Kent, and from Kew Gardens in London, have gone to the forest to take cuttings and seeds.

It is hoped that by doing so, they will be able to preserve the 400-year-old juniper's genetic material and grow new trees.

Genetic heritage

The other New Forest juniper is 80 years old.

The juniper tree used to be common and was used by locals for folk medicines and to flavour food and drink.

Jonathan Spencer, chief ecologist for the Forestry Commission, thinks the trees' failure to thrive is due to changes in local farming practices over the last century as farmers now burn off bracken.

In 18 months time the curators hope to have grown sturdy young plants from the cuttings.

They will keep some in order to preserve the genetic heritage, but others could be returned to repopulate the forest.

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