We are working to create a living gene bank of threatened conifer species by collecting their seed from native forests and then growing the young trees to plant out in safe havens in Perthshire.  These new collections contain a wealth of genetic diversity and can be drawn on in the future to help restore the original 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. 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 RBGE's world-leading expertise in modern-day plant collecting, following strict scientific protocols established there in recent years.


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 accompany the seeds are as important to us as the seeds themselves.  All our seed and plant collections are recorded in detail, and carefully tracked and monitored using the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh’s plant records database. We follow RBGE's world-leading standards on data quality. We also follow strict national and international licencing requirements linked to seed collection and planting out, as well as increasingly important and rigorous bio-security measures to prevent risks from the spread of pests, diseases and invasive non-native species (INNS). 

Seedlings in the nursery

Young Serbian Spruce trees at RBGE Nursery

Seeds are sown in RBGE's Edinburgh nursery and tend to germinate the spring after sowing. The emerging seedlings are grown on for several years until they are robust enough to plant out on one of our carefully selected sites in Perthshire.  PBTC Conifer Conservation Programme trees are grown in peat-free compost, using the Air-Pot® system. These special pots are manufactured in Scotland using recycled plastic. 

Site Selection

PCCP tree planted

As the young trees are growing, suitable sites within Perthshire are selected for future planting. Once the trees have reached suitable planting size, they are carefully tested to ensure they are free from plant pathogens before being distributed to their designated sites and planted with appropriate protection. They are then nurtured and 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 HotelCluny House Gardens and the Birks of Aberfeldy.  These feature relatively small numbers of individual trees comprising a diverse species mix planted in-keeping with their surroundings, often historic landscapes.

'Naturalistic grove’ sites

These tend to be within commercial forests, for example Craigvinean forest near Dunkeld or sites like 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 a spacing that will result in a 'natural 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 such ‘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 keen and helpful 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 and ensure they thrive.
  3. Longevity of ownership and management – sites wishing to become involved must be prepared to commit for the long term. After all, the trees being planted through our project have the potential to live for over 200 years or more!

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, some advance preparation is needed to ensure conditions are ideal for the new arrivals.  Planting is usually undertaken in autumn or spring, and protective structures are placed around all the young trees to allow them to establish without the risk of damage by rabbits, deer or even humans! 

All the trees have been mapped accurately, are labelled carefully and monitored closely, often during two site visits in the first year after planting, and then annually to record and measure their ongoing growth and health.

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 wealth of knowledge to provide valuable information for conservationists working to protect the future of these trees here and in their native original forests.