Scotland establishes tree gene pool to aid global conservation

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19 JUNE 2011NEWS RELEASE No: 14687

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Environment & Climate Change Minister, Stewart Stevenson visited the Forest Festival at Scone Palace on Saturday (18 June) to launch the National Tree Collections of Scotland (NTCS).

A partnership project, led by Forestry Commission Scotland and Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, NTCS will serve as Scotland’s national arboretum.

The collections – at sites around the country - will raise awareness of Scotland’s world-leading role in tree conservation and also highlight the rich history of Scottish plant collectors, whose legacy shapes modern forestry - and its significant contribution to Scotland’s rural economy. 

Environment & Climate Change Minister, Stewart Stevenson, said:

“Scotland’s climate, our history of tree collecting and our expertise and tradition in horticulture, science and forestry, have combined to create some of the finest tree collections in Europe.

“At a time of global concern over encroaching climate change and ongoing habitat destruction, Scotland's tree collections are taking on a new educational and conservation significance.

“Many of the species featuring in the National Tree Collections are under threat in their own natural environments so the participating NTCS sites are a vital reservoir of genetic material that will both safeguard against this threat of extinction and also help maintain the value of collections in the British Isles in general.”

As a voluntary ‘club’ of willing participants, the NTCS members will share expertise and resources to conserve the collections and secure their long-term future. Each of the sites will also be accessible to the public.

The emphasis will be on being inclusive rather than exclusive so anyone with a tree collection of interest wishing to get involved will be encouraged to discuss how they might participate.

Professor Stephen Blackmore, Regius Keeper of the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, key partners in the project, added:

“Because of their geographic spread across Scotland, these collections are able to cultivate a wide range of tree species from around the world. Our legacy of scientific and horticultural expertise, plant introductions from the temperate regions of the world, and pioneering planting from the 18th century onwards has resulted in Scotland having tree collections which are of international importance for historic, scientific and cultural reasons and they deserve to be better known and more widely visited.

“Highlighting all of these reasons, and with the collection sites themselves, will help improve an understanding of the importance of trees and promote the many benefits that can be derived from their positive management.”

The National Tree Collections Scotland inaugural sites are:

• Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll
• Dawyck Botanic Garden, near Peebles
• Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh
• Kilmun Aboretum, Argyll
• Scone Palace Pinetum, near Perth.

A number of other locations across Scotland have been identified, and who have already indicated their willingness to get involved. The next steps will be to engage them in the initiative.

A new website has been created to help promote the NTCS. For further information and contact details visit

Notes to Editors
1) Forestry Commission Scotland serves as the Scottish Government’s forestry directorate and manages the 660,000 hectare national forest estate, protecting, managing and expanding Scotland’s forests and woodlands in a ways that deliver benefits to Scotland’s people, communities, biodiversity and economy.

2) The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is one of the world’s leading research botanic gardens. It’s National Heritage Collections include over 3 million preserved plant specimens, library and archive collections dating back to the 15th century, and one of the best-documented Living Collections of plants in the world with over 15,000 species cultivated in its four gardens, all of which underpins world leading scientific, horticultural and educational programmes in Scotland and in over 80 countries worldwide.

3) Tree collections were first established in Scotland over 200 years ago by the ‘planting lairds’ at locations including Inveraray, Blair Atholl, Scone, Crathes, Dawyck, Drumlanrig, and Hopetoun. The quality of these and other listed Historic Gardens and Designed Landscapes, amongst the finest in the land, owes much to these trees and policies.

Scottish plant hunters such as David Douglas later introduced trees from the spectacular forests of the Pacific Northwest of North America, including Sitka spruce, Douglas fir and giant redwood. Later 19th century introductions arrived form Australia (eucalyptus), all parts of the Americas (southern beech and various conifers), China and the Far East (Japanese cedar and Japanese larch) and further collections were established at places such as Crarae and Benmore in Argyll as well as in public parks and gardens including the RBG at Inverleith in Edinburgh and the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

The Commission set up its own trials and experiments and the Kilmun Arboretum near Dunoon, set up in 1930, now has one of the most important forest garden collections in Europe because of the range and variety of trees grown in stands and the extensive period of observation and trial.

4. The International Conifer Conservation Programme is based at the RBGE and was set up in 1991 to help conserve threatened conifer species and their habitats across the globe, through an integrated programme of taxonomic, conservation, genetic and horticultural research.  Around half of the world’s 650-odd conifer species can be grown in Scotland. ICCP staff already work closely with many landowners across Scotland to help establish new collections of threatened conifers including the iCONic Project in Perthshire’s Big Tree Country.

5. Tom Christian has been appointed to work as the Project Officer for the NTCS. His role will be to build and promote the NTCS network and help site managers source support for looking after the collections. A horticultural graduate of RBGE, Tom has considerable experience working with the ICCP and is currently supporting the work of the iCONic project in Perthshire in collaboration with Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust. He will continue to be based at the RBGE in Inverleith and in Perthshire whilst developing the NTCS initiative across Scotland. He can be contacted by email at