Once more widespread in the area, there is now only one juniper (Juniperus communis) bush remaining on this popular mountain, and only a handful of plants are still present in the wider Loch Lomondside area. Now, conservation experts are searching for local plants to establish a ‘family’ of juniper and help ensure that the plant survives for future generations.
Ranger Alasdair Eckersall explains: “In the past, juniper was probably relatively widespread here, but not any longer. We are trying to provide this bush with a family, with the aim of giving juniper a chance to maintain its presence on Ben Lomond into the future.
“The gradual disappearance of juniper is likely to be due to a combination of factors, including grazing by livestock and deer, burning of scrub, and the use of juniper as a source of wood fuel. Juniper produces very little smoke when it burns, and so was much favoured as a fuel source by makers of illicit whisky as it didn’t give away the presence of their stills. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the archaeological remains of an illicit still site sit within a wooded gorge, only 300m downslope of our last remaining juniper.
“We have consulted with Scottish Natural Heritage, Plantlife and Forestry Commission Scotland and the best recommended practice is for us to bring in other juniper plants of local provenance, to plant in the vicinity of the surviving plant.”The Trust has recruited contractor Stephen Mason of Tuolumne Nature Restoration to undertake the search for surviving juniper plants in an area of 15 kilometres around Ben Lomond.
Alasdair continues: “We have taken cuttings from more than sixty plants at nine sites within our identified area. These will now be propagated by a specialist nursery, and we’ll be able to take more cuttings in the summer, depending on the success of those collected so far.
“Once the cuttings have developed roots we will be able to continue growing them on ourselves. The cuttings will take 3 to 5 years to grow into plants big enough to plant out, but the wait will be worth it to ensure juniper maintains its presence on the hill.
“Taking cuttings from different plants in different locations will help ensure we are bringing as much of the remaining local genetic diversity as we practically can into one area, helping to increase the chances of re-establishing a successful and strong population.”