Secret site to protect plants from disease

 

A high security conservation centre to safeguard Britain's flora from the spread of new plant diseases is to be established at a secret location in the Devon countryside.

The two-and-a-half acre National Trust site, which was opened yesterday, will see the emergency propagation of threatened specimens such as native oaks, wild asparagus and rhododendrons.

Described as the Trust's most significant conservation initiative for more than half a century, it will bring together under-threat items from 50 of the charity's major collections and all 200 public gardens. Staff will begin the task of logging all endangered plants across the Trust's properties.

Many of the specimens were brought back to Britain and raised from seed in gardens that have become major tourist destinations, attracting millions of visitors each year. However, only scientists and Trust personnel will be allowed to enter the new site in the east of the county. Scientists hope to create resistant replacements for species liable to diseases such as Phytophthora ramorum which causes Sudden Oak Death.

First diagnosed in California in 2000, the disease has spread rapidly to Europe, appearing in the UK in 2003. It can affect 40 different species including horse chestnut, viburnum and rhododendron. Among those to be preserved first are Rhododendron macabeanum from Trengwainton Gardens near Penzance, which was brought to Britain from India in the 1920s; Juniperus Communis from Compton Down in Dorset and rare Acer palmatum from Winkworth Arboretum in Surrey.

The Trust will also offer a propagation service to private growers looking to preserve rare species.

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