We are working to create a living gene bank of threatened conifers by collecting seed in native forests and growing young trees to plant in special groves in Perthshire.  These new collections will contain a wealth of genetic diversity and can be drawn on in the future to help restore depleted forests around the world.

Seed Collecting

Collecting Serbian Spruce seeds in Bosnia 2012

Seed collecting expeditions follow in the footsteps of historic 'Plant Hunters' like Archibald Menzies and David Douglas, who travelled the world in the 18th and 19th centuries in search of new plants ‘for pleasure and profit’ and whose legacies live on in the extraordinary landscapes in places like the pinetum at Scone Palace.

Modern expeditions to collect and study plants have conservation as their primary objective, and the techniques used today are hugely advanced from the early days of plant hunting. Through collaboration with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, we can draw on their world-leading expertise in modern day plant collecting, following protocols established there in recent years.

Cultivation

Seeds collected on PCCP expedition

When a seed collecting expedition returns to Scotland, an early assessment is made of its achievements as the data that accompanies the sees are as important to us as the seeds themselves.  All our seed and plant collections are recorded, tracked, and monitored using the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s powerful integrated database, and we follow the Botanics’ world-leading standards on data quality.

Seedlings in the nursery

Young Serbian Spruce trees at RBGE Nursery

Seeds are sown in the Botanics’ nursery and typically germinate the spring after sowing. Seedlings are grown on for several years until they are large enough to plant out into one of our carefully selected sites in Perthshire.  PBTC Conifer Conservation Programme trees are grown in peat-free compost and using the Air-Pot® system. These special opts are manufactured in Scotland using recycled plastic. 

Site Selection

PCCP tree planted

As young trees are growing, suitable sites within Perthshire are selected for future planting. Once the trees have reached planting size, they are distributed to their designated sites and planted with appropriate protection. They are then regularly monitored as they establish themselves in their new home.

Our planting sites fall into two categories:

‘Specimen Tree’ sites

Typically located in gardens and arboreta, for example in the grounds of Gleneagles Hotel and Cluny House Gardens and in the Birks of Aberfeldy.  These feature relatively small numbers of individual trees comprised of a diverse species mix planted in a way in-keeping with these often historic landscapes.

'Naturalistic Grove’ sites

These are more commonly encountered within commercial forests, for example in Craigvinean forest near Dunkeld and on the Bonskeid Estate near the Linn of Tummel, just north of Pitlochry.  These sites feature large numbers of individual trees of a single species, planted at natural spacing that will result in an organic appearance to the groves as they grow and develop.

We are very fortunate to be able to adopt this approach.  Few conservation projects are able to create these ‘naturalistic groves’ containing large numbers of a single species, yet they are extremely important to conservation as they allow for a much greater range of genetic diversity to be conserved. 

We work with a wide range of landowners in the public and private sectors to establish our conservation collections.  All participating sites are selected based on meeting the following criteria:

  1. Public access – as a minimum standard, a public right of way passing through or beside the site.
  2. Environmental suitability – given the wide range of species involved in our work, a wide range of sites with diverse environmental conditions will be needed to accommodate the collections.
  3. Longevity of Ownership and Management – sites wishing to become involved must be prepared to commit for the long term, for, after all, the trees being planted through our project have the potential to live well into the 22nd century!

Sites wishing to become involved in our conservation work by hosting a collection of threatened trees should contact us.   

Planting on Site

Once a site is selected for planting, an amount of preparation is needed to ensure conditions are optimum for the new arrivals.  Planting is usually undertaken in autumn or spring, and protective structures are placed around all the plants to allow them to establish without the risk of damage by rabbits or deer or indeed humans! 

All the plants are carefully labelled and are closely monitored, often during two site visits in the first year after planting, and then annually to record and measure growth.

By planting trees across a range of sites with different environmental conditions and recording the performance of trees across these different sites, we are able to build up a huge bank of knowledge that can provide invaluable information for horticulturists and conservationists working to protect these trees in the future.