Gin firm helps save West Sussex’s juniper

Juniper stands. picture courtesy of Matthew Thomas, Steyning Downland Scheme
Juniper stands. picture courtesy of Matthew Thomas, Steyning Downland Scheme

Juniper plants on the brink of extinction in West Sussex are being given a lifeline with the award of a £1,000.00 grant.

The cash will help protect a tiny surviving population of just four plants on Steyning Coombe, designated a Local Wildlife Site and managed by the Steyning Downland Scheme.

In Sussex alone, juniper declines of 69 per cent have been recorded.

Funding comes from No.3 London Dry Gin and has been co-ordinated via Plantlife, the UK’s leading wild plant charity.

The gin-giving plants are in decline across West Sussex and the UK as a whole – due to factors such as excessive rabbit grazing as well as a lack of habitat for young plants. Now, a new and deadly disease (Phytophthora austrocedrae) is on the horizon that could wipe out our juniper nationwide.

Juniper is one of Britain’s oldest plants – it colonised the country just after the last Ice Age – and is the key flavour in what many would call our national drink, the G&T! All gins feature juniper, but No.3 prides itself on a ‘robust’ use of the fruit. It was created three years ago by Berry Bros. & Rudd (Britain’s oldest wine and spirit merchants) to ‘taste as gin should’, with juniper to the fore.

Tim Wilkins, Species Recovery Coordinator at Plantlife, explains why No.3’s support is so welcome: “Juniper has been steadily declining over the last few decades and without action now, it actually faces extinction across West Sussex and much of lowland England within 50 years.

“Such a calamity would represent more than the loss of a single plant type - it supports more than 40 species of insect and fungus that cannot survive without it.

“Plantlife have launched various juniper conservation projects across the UK but, especially with this new disease threat, we’re absolutely thrilled that No.3 is bolstering our efforts in these ways.”

Mike Mackenzie, of No.3, added: “Juniper is very much at the heart of No.3, so it’s entirely appropriate that we support Plantlife’s activities in these ways. Their work in this area of conservation is second to none and we’re hopeful of healthy days ahead for West Sussex’s juniper.”

Report contributed by Andy Nash.