Rare tree blown down by Storm Arwen harvested to give new life

A wildlife expert “nearly cried” when she saw that one of England’s rarest trees had blown down in Storm Arwen.

But now, that tree is helping to bring its species back from the brink of extinction.

It was one of just seven surviving examples of the native English variety of Scots pine, all around the Kielderhead Wildwood in Northumberland.

Experts have raced against time to harvest buds, known as “scions” from what would have been the highest branches of the tree, so they can be grafted onto a rootstock and grown into saplings.

The tree in happier times Credit: Natasha Hemsley, Northumberland Wildlife Trust

Those behind the project hope several hundred saplings can eventually be planted to help the Williams Cleugh variety reestablish itself in an area where dozens would have once stood.

Natasha Hemsley, from Northumberland Wildlife Trust, said losing the tree was extremely emotional.

She said that when she saw it, "I almost cried, to be honest. This tree was especially important” and it was hard “to look into the landscape and see such a large tree completely on its side.”

“This tree would once have had others around it,” she explained. “They have sadly been lost in the last hundred years. And the fact that this was still here is a real testament to it. And it's just such a shame that it's gone.”

But, says Natasha, the project means there will be a positive coming out of the loss of the tree. 

The buds will be planted as saplings Credit: ITV News Tyne Tees

"We've managed to come in before it's lost all viability," she said. "We've managed to take what little scraps are left of the living tree, that we can to graft and create new life for this forest. It will preserve the legacy of the tree.”

The process of grafting takes place 175 miles south of the fallen tree, at the Forestart nursery near Shrewsbury.

Taking all of the scions and attaching them to a rootstock is the job of Neil Bebbington.

Neil Bebbington

"Once they’re gone, they’re gone," he said. "And it's a shame that these trees are some of the last of their type. Some of the last of their kind. They would be lost. It would be a shame for that to happen. And simply by grafting, you're recreating the exact tree."

The loss of one tree potentially helping to secure the future of this unique variety..