The Hepple juniper is the inspiration to everything we do here and we are dedicated to ensuring its survival.
I’ve written before about our ambitious restoration and propagation project to plant out hundreds of seedlings every year. An ongoing part of this work is to map the location of the older bushes alongside the new seedlings. Our mapping data includes a great deal of information about each plant that we will use to try to attain our holy grail: natural self-seeding. Ideally, we do nothing, because nature will do it all.
For now, we have to turn the handle on the starter motor, but this is a complicated engine: there are so many variables, from the density and age of the stands, through to grazing regimes, elevation and ground alkalinity. That is why we like aerial photography: a picture tells a thousand stories, so we are combining our planting data with photographs and Google Maps. As we build our records over the next few years through annual mapping these will be the “view from the bridge”
On our side, the project is led by my wife, Lucy, and we are dependent on many partners and helpers: Natural England, the Northumberland National Parks authority and Newcastle University. It also relies on our partnership with the Robson family whose sensitive management of the Hepple Whitefield farm has allowed the survival and now the expansion of juniper on the Hepple Estate.
Most of the stands at Hepple consist of ladies of a certain age – frequently running to the hundreds of years – and while their berries taste fabulous, seed fertility is not quite what it was. The planting undertaken by the National Parks over the past decade is resulting in a new cohort of females. These are just beginning to produce berries, whose seed is ten times more likely to germinate than that from the older bushes.
That said the Hepple stands are still self-regenerating, albeit not as strongly as we would like. The light green circles on the aerial photo below show self-seeded juniper at Aunt Jane’s, the stand nearest our spring. There are eight mature females that are the seed source in the mature stand at the top right of the red circle.
Thrushes, Fieldfares and Waxwings, which we have plenty of feed on these berries and eject the seeds in a happy bundle of compost on their route to the stream (in the left of the photograph). The whole area is watered by alkaline springs that are supportive for the juniper seedlings. It made sense to us to focus our planting in the area between these new seedlings and the mature stand.
These two logs show the difference in the number of mature females and the new planting alongside the mature females this year. The planting in this area accounted for half the 180 seedlings we planted out this year.
It is a very long-term project: it will be fifteen years before these seedlings will start to carry berries, these will then stay for three years on the bush before maturing, then spend two years in the soil before germinating. Somewhere around 2040 we may see the true results of this programme – many martinis from now!