Please welcome one of our newly discovered junipers – as yet immature and un-named, but very much loved.
It is a small, spiny, sexless thing. Unimpressive in looks and undistinguished in size, what is there to get excited about?
Its significance is that it is one of the very few juniper seedlings to have sown themselves naturally in England over the past decade. Juniper used to be a prolific self-seeder – a classic pioneer species, like the birch or gorse. It would spread quickly over exposed areas of the chalk downs in the South, or around alkaline springs on lightly-grazed heaths in the North.
Today, the density of sheep pastures and falling acreage of truly “wild” land has put it on the “at risk” register for native trees. And there is another problem – a little beastie parasite that munches through the cones as they mature into the purple of their third year. Thankfully the chillier North has kept the gin-snuffling pest at bay: we don’t have it here. But add it all together, intensive farming, the need for alkaline water and the presence of the juniper bug further south means that sightings of self-seeded plants are exceptionally rare. At Hepple, three fine young and previously undiscovered specimens were found on the high moor in just one morning – and as a reading for the cleanliness and vitality of Hepple, you couldn’t do much better.