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Boggy land needed for Dunster's rare black poplar tree
West Somerset Community College students on Dunster Crown Estate
College students have helped make tree cuttings of the native black poplar

The future of a rare tree species is being safeguarded by staff at Dunster Crown Estate.

The native black poplar has been in decline for 200 years and around 2,500 are known to be in existence in the UK.

In a project working with students at West Somerset Community College and a local nursery, tree cuttings have been cultivated for propagation.

Until the 1800s they were planted for making carts, matches and shields and were an integral part of the landscape.

The native black poplar (Populus nigra ssp. Betulifolia) has been described by Andy Player, the crown estate manager at Dunster as 'a really quirky, interesting looking tree, if you got a child to draw a tree it would form that flowering sort of shape and it's a really gnarled, old looking tree'.

It was a common sight in the English countryside immortalised in John Constable's painting, The Hay Wain.

However, because of its fall in popularity there are only a few places where the trees are found, with the Dunster Crown Estate being one of them.

Andy Player, the crown estate manager at Dunster said:

"The native tree relies on a male-female relationship and the females produce a downy fluff which was considered quite annoying so the females weren't planted.

"It was purely males that were planted...the other reason is that they hybridise very readily with other types of black poplar which makes it difficult to determine which ones are the natives."

Because of that reason it is thought that only 400 female black poplars are thought to exist but soil conditions in Britain aren't suitable to germinate the seeds.

Staff on the estate have found a true native black poplar and have successfully taken 200 cuttings from this male parent tree for propagation.

The aim is to grow these and sell them to landowners who have slightly, wet, boggy land where they can thrive.

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