Juniper supports more than 40 species of insect and fungus
Government scientists involved in military research in Wiltshire have a new mission - to protect juniper.
The Porton Down range, where defence experiments are carried out, is home to about 20% of the UK's juniper bushes.
No new plants have taken root for the past 50 years because rabbits eat the seedlings.
Now the scientists are working with the Salisbury-based charity, Plantlife, to save juniper from extinction.
The project is being led by Carl Mayers, a scientist at the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory [DSTL], whose work involves developing body and vehicle armour for the army.
Mr Mayers said: "At Porton Down the juniper plays an important part in the ecology of our site.
"Unusually we have two age groups of juniper here - one 100 years old that was well established before the growth in the rabbit population, and the second, 50 years old, that was able to get a footing during the myxomatosis outbreak of the 1950s and 60s.
"At all other times the rabbits, who particularly enjoy juniper, have kept any new plants at bay.
"Junipers have a natural lifespan of around 100 years so DSTL is now working with Plantlife because, if we don't do something now, the juniper on our range will be extinct in 50 years."
The project includes collecting berries, checking seed fertility, processing seeds and storing for planting later in the year.
Some of the 32,000 seeds which have been collected by crushing berries will be sown on the range and protected during germination using cages to keep rabbits and voles away.
The project has more than 70 volunteer supporters including staff at DSTL and people living nearby.
Tim Wilkins of Plantlife said: "Porton Down is a fantastic site for juniper, supporting the largest population of bushes in southern England, but even here there is an acute lack of seedlings and it is only a matter of time before bushes die through old age.
"The loss of juniper would represent more than the loss of a single species. It supports more than 40 species of insect and fungus that cannot survive without it."