A team of experts from Scotland, brought together by the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE), worked with local officials in Dangchu Valley, Bhutan in March 2016 to develop a conservation program for their national tree – the Tsenden or Himalayan Cypress. The Tsenden is Bhutan's most valuable tree and is essential for the construction and restoration of sacred temples.

The team comprised Neil McCheyne and David Gray from Benmore Botanic Garden, Scotland and Tom Christian from the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust (PKCT).

Neil and David are horticulturists and trained arboriculturists (tree climbers and tree surgeons). Tom is conifer expert and delivers PKCT’s iCONic Project which helps save endangered conifers from around the world.

The project was initiated by local residents and officials and funded by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), a London-based charity, after they were made aware of the project following a tour of Bhutan in 2014.

Tom said: “The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh works in over 30 countries around the world and PKCT is very happy to be working in partnership with them. It is very encouraging when we come across projects like this one, where it has been initiated by the local people and supported by local officials. The Dangchu Valley is an important ecosystem as it contains the largest known natural stands of Tsenden anywhere in the world, but the timber contained in the forest is coming under increasing pressure for construction and restoration of important temples in Bhutan. It is essential that these forests are very carefully managed if there is to be a sustainable supply of Tsenden in the future.”

The work currently taking place includes:

  • Collection of seed (by tree climbers) from as many Tsenden trees as possible;
  • Establishing a community tree nursery to cultivate young trees in Dangchu Valley;
  • Establishing community plantations of Tsenden to create a sustainable timber supply for the future to relieve pressure on the natural forests;
  • Surveying of the natural stands of Tsenden in Dangchu Valley to determine area, health, the extent of any regeneration and to inform future management; and
  • Surveying of the natural stands of Tsenden in Dangchu Valley and data collection for other minor stands elsewhere in Bhutan to inform a national IUCN conservation assessment for Tsenden.

It is hoped that by undertaking this work measures can be put in place to conserve the natural Tsenden forests as a reserve, while continuing to provide a sustainable source of timber for constructing and restoring sacred temples. The findings of the current research can also be used to communicate and inform people both within Bhutan and internationally about this important tree and the forests where it grows by installing interpretation at important sites like the Royal Botanic Garden Serbithang, Bhutan.

Dr Paul Smith, Secretary General of BGCI, explained why the charity wanted to support this initiative: “BGCI wanted to fund the conservation and restoration of Tsenden because of the tree’s cultural significance and because the people of Dangchu care about its future. We were particularly impressed that the people of Dangchu wish to plant this tree not for themselves, but for their grandchildren.”