Trees for Life has been collecting seed from dwarf birch trees on its Dundreggan Conservation Estate in Glenmoriston near Loch Ness, as part of a national project to protect the UK’s trees.

Trees for Life is a partner in the UK National Tree Seed Project, a programme set up by the Royal Botanic Gardens – Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank – with funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery.

Tree seeds collected as part of the project are safely banked in the underground vaults of Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, forming the UK’s first national collection of tree seeds. These collections play a vital role in conservation work to protect UK trees and woodlands, including against pests and diseases such as ash dieback. The collections, and associated data, are available to researchers working on solutions to tackle the many threats facing our woodlands.

“Because dwarf birch is a small, low-growing tree it is always at risk of overgrazing by deer and sheep”

Dwarf birch is part of the montane scrub group of plants that grow at high elevation – over 300m – in the Scottish hills. It is a small tree that grows no more than a metre tall, and is often found growing on its side along the ground. Montane tree species would once have been common on Scottish mountains – found between dense woodland and open hilltops – but today montane scrub has almost disappeared from Scotland.

Emma Beckinsale, Trees for Life Nursery Assistant, said: “We collected seed from over 50 plants. Because dwarf birch is a small, low-growing tree it is always at risk of overgrazing by deer and sheep, so we are delighted that we can contribute to the conservation of this species both locally, and globally through the Millennium Seed Bank.”

The seeds collected will stored in a specially temperature and humidity controlled environment at the Millennium Seed Bank before being processed and transferred to deep-freeze conditions. The seeds should remain viable for many decades and will be available to support research and on-the-ground conservation activity.

Clare Trivedi, UK National Tree Seed Project Coordinator at Kew Gardens, said: “Building up our seed collections of the nation’s favourite and most important tree species is a vital step in combating the multiple challenges, including pests and diseases, which threaten to alter our landscape dramatically. We are delighted that Trees for Life is supporting this project to help us ensure that seeds from across the UK are collected and conserved.”

The UK National Tree Seed Project launched in May 2013 with the aim of securing genetically diverse collections of UK native trees and shrubs. The species target list takes into account factors such as conservation status, prevalence in the landscape and vulnerability to pests and diseases. The target species include many which underpin the UK’s wider plant and animal diversity, as well as supporting woodland industry, tourism and recreation, such as ash, juniper, Scots pine, alder, beech, hazel, silver birch and yew. To date, the project has collected more than 12.5 million seeds sampling from over 8,000 individual trees across the UK.