Helping to save a species from extinction
His Majesty King Charles III plants critically endangered tree at Westonbirt Arboretum to help save the species from extinction
King Charles III joined staff at Westonbirt, The National Arboretum to plant an endangered tree this week.
His Majesty planted a critically endangered Wollemi pine tree within Silk Wood at Westonbirt Arboretum. The planting event is part of an international conservation effort to establish a flourishing, genetically diverse population of these rare trees across the world.
More than 170 young Wollemi pine trees grown by Botanic Gardens of Sydney were shipped from Australia and have been carefully looked after at Forestry England’s tree nursery at Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest in Kent. Six have been planted to become part of the living collection at Westonbirt with a further six planted at Bedgebury, while the remaining trees have been distributed to 27 botanic gardens across the UK and Europe. Separate collections of trees have been sent direct from Sydney to five Australian botanic gardens and one in Atlanta in the USA.
Wollemi pines have been dubbed the ‘dinosaur tree’ because fossil records show they were living 200 million years ago alongside the dinosaurs. It was thought they had become extinct between 70 and 90 million years ago until a chance discovery in 1994, when a small group of living trees was found by an Australian explorer and botanist, David Noble, growing in a remote gorge in the Wollemi National Park in New South Wales. This moment is considered one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time. The tree species is now classified as critically endangered on the IUCN's red list, an important indicator of the world’s biodiversity which sets out the risks of extinction for plant and animal species.
Since its discovery, there has been a concerted effort to insure the species against the loss of the remaining wild trees, with fewer than 100 left growing in a gorge 150 kilometres from Sydney. These wild trees are increasingly vulnerable to threats from diseases and wildfires and narrowly escaped being destroyed by wildfires in 2019-2020 which burnt more than 10 million hectares of land in eastern Australia.
Recent advances in genetic techniques have enabled Australian plant science and conservation experts to identify and breed genetically diverse Wollemi pines. For the first time, these genetically diverse collections of saplings are being made available to botanic gardens across the world. Locations have been chosen with a suitable climate, best suited for the trees to survive climate changes ahead. Together they will create a metacollection, a botanical collection shared by separate organisations but cared for collaboratively to research and conserve the species for the future. Growing the trees worldwide in this way preserves the widest range of genetic diversity found in the wild population and aims to safeguard Wollemi pines from becoming extinct.
Geraint Richards, Head Forester to the Duchy of Cornwall and to His Majesty The King stated:
“It is extremely significant to have His Majesty King Charles III plant a Wollemi pine at the world-renowned Westonbirt Arboretum. This event combines His Majesty’s long-standing concern for protecting the environment with his great enthusiasm for tree planting. We know that visitors will enjoy seeing this rare species and will hopefully be inspired to learn more about what the world’s leading botanic gardens are doing to protect and conserve our trees.”
The King dug the soil and placed the tree in its new home in Silk Wood, surrounded by volunteers and staff from Westonbirt and the arboretum’s charity, The Friends of Westonbirt Arboretum. This planting contributes to Forestry England’s programme of planting and caring for a diverse range of trees from many locations around the world, trees that are resilient to future climate change.
Andrew Smith, Director at Westonbirt Arboretum, said:
“It is very fitting to have His Majesty plant a Wollemi pine here during Coronation year. We are also delighted to dedicate the planting location as ‘Coronation Glade’ to celebrate the Coronation of Their Majesties King Charles III and Queen Camilla, both of whom have had a long association with the arboretum. Planting ceremonies like this are a wonderful occasion to encourage people to connect with trees and nature, our core mission here at Westonbirt.”
Planting these critically endangered Wollemi pine trees as part of the first global ‘metacollection’ to save the iconic species from extinction, continues Westonbirt’s vision to be a world leader in trees, inspiring people through education, participation and conservation.