Gin distilleries welcome efforts to save juniper bush at risk of extinction in southern Britain

  • ITV News Meridian's Richard Slee went to see first-hand the efforts to save the juniper bush

Gin distilleries across the south of England have welcomed efforts to save the juniper bush which is at risk of becoming extinct in the region.

Juniper berries are the vital ingredient used to make gin, but the plant on which they grow is in decline.

The juniper bush is one of three native conifers and they grow mainly on chalk grasslands.

There are now just half the number of bushes there were 50 years ago, due to overgrazing and changes to the way land is managed.

Juniper bushes are in decline in southern Britain. Credit: ITV News Meridian

A conservation project is now underway in Wiltshire to revive the plant by sowing seeds which have been carefully propagated in the Millenium Seedbank based in Haywards Heath in Sussex.

Salisbury-based charity Plantlife are planting the seeds in specially created 'scrapes' in the landscape, often alongside smaller juniper plants which have been grown in a nursery.

Matt Pitts, Plantlife said: "We're going to different landscapes across the south of England and we're actually scraping to get bare ground and we'll be sowing juniper seeds back into those scrapes to allow them to naturally regenerate."

Local farmers are helping with the project.

Josh Stratton, farmer, said: "We feel where the juniper has been in trouble for a while this is a great way to restore it and our legacy will hopefully be that future generations will have a thriving colony of juniper here at Stockton."

A juniper bush next to a 'scrape' in the landscape used to plant smaller bushes and sow seeds. Credit: ITV News Meridian

At the moment, gin distilleries have to import juniper berries.

Most botanicals used to flavour gin are sourced locally, so gin distilleries welcome the idea that one day they might also be able to use local juniper.

Hugh Anderson, The Downton Distillery said: "Three of our botanicals are already foraged and they grow outside the distillery, so they are cedar, lemon verbena and bay, and being able to have juniper, the most important ingredient, growing outside the distillery would just be a huge feather in the cap."

Sam Graves, Maidstone Distillery, said: "People really connect to produce or drinks they are enjoying when they know that the products originated from this country or are local to them.

"So it would be lovely to use locally grown juniper."

Plantlife is now planning conservation work in many more chalk grassland areas, including the Chilterns, North Wessex Downs and parts of Hampshire.