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Scottish national arboretum

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'National arboretum' for Scotland

19 October 2011

Sorbus epidendron

The future of Scotland's rich tree heritage is to be safeguarded with a series of registered collections across the country, effectively creating a gene bank of Scotland's trees.

The National Tree Collections of Scotland (NTCS), overseen by the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh and the Forestry Commission Scotland, will eventually serve as a national arboretum and could act as a buffer against the effects of climate change and habitat loss on tree collections throughout the British Isles.

Seven locations have already been earmarked for NTCS collections; they include three of the four Botanics (Benmore in Argyle, Dawyck, near Peebles, and the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh), the Kilmun Arboretum in Argyll and the Scone Palace Pinetum near Perth. Around 20 further sites have also said they're interested in becoming collection holders.

The project is also looking for further notable collections of trees, in public, private or charitable ownership, and the owners of existing arboreta in Scotland are actively encouraged to become collection holders.

'It's an inclusive rather than an exclusive thing,' said Syd House, of the Forestry Commission Scotland. 'We've inherited many of these collections from far-sighted individuals or institutions, and what we're doing now is handing them on to the next generation in good condition.'

Scotland has relatively few native tree species, but is home to some of the finest tree collections in Europe thanks to a rich history of introductions from overseas. 'Planting lairds' led the fashion over 200 years ago for collecting specimens then considered exotic, and planted tens of millions of trees covering thousands of hectares of land.

They were helped by Scottish plant hunters such as Archibald Menzies, who introduced Araucana araucaria, the monkey-puzzle tree, and David Douglas, who brought back over 240 new species including Sitka spruce, Pseudostuga menziesii (Douglas fir) and Sequoiadendron giganteum (giant redwood), before famously being gored to death in a bull pit in Hawaii.

More recently, trials by the Forestry Commission in the 1930s built up an immensely important forest garden collection at Kilmun Arboretum, including entire forest plots of Tsuga heterophylla (Western hemlock) and eucalypts.

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