THE JUNIPER plant which is used to flavour gin is being killed off by disease leaving Scottish stocks in a “critical state”, according to a new report.
Although Scotland is home to around 80% of the UK’s surviving juniper stock, less than a third of the sites have strong and secure populations.
A study by Plantlife said it was due to the spread of the deadly fungal disease phytophthora austrocedrae.
The report followed a science survey carried out by amateur enthusiasts.
As well as an ingredient for Scottish gin producers, juniper provides food for some wildlife including the juniper shield bug.
The report concludes that the decline of juniper is caused by the failure of juniper bushes - many of which are over a century old - to produce seeds.
Deborah Long, head of Plantlife Scotland, said: “Volunteer citizen science surveys are helping us understand what is happening to juniper in Scotland.
“We know juniper populations are struggling, but they now face an additional threat. It is thanks to these citizen scientists who have been helping us monitor the species, that we can start working with land owners to help juniper communities become more resistant to the threats they face, including this new disease.
“We need to ensure juniper has a future.”
Murdo Fraser MSP, the Conservative politician representing Mid-Scotland and Fife and a ‘species champion’ for juniper, added: “Juniper is one of our most iconic species.
“Used not only by birds as cover and food, juniper is a key native plant for human use too. Today though, juniper is in trouble.
“Plantlife’s report is a call to action for us all to do what we can for juniper.”
Campaigners say juniper is distinctive for its greenish blue needles and the dark purple berries that are used in the production of gin.
The shrub has been living on Scotland’s mountains, moors, and woodlands since the last ice age thousands of years ago.
The Plantlife group say phytophthora austrocedrae has only been recorded in Argentina and the UK.
Once infected, a juniper bush turns orange then brown.
The Plantlife survey found that 63% of bushes surveyed in Scotland were found to have brown patches, and 79% of juniper recorded in 2014 was either mature, old or dead.
Plantlife said unsuitable grazing regimes prevent germination while rabbit and vole populations eat juvenile plants.