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Scotland Is Running Out of the Gin-Producing Juniper Plant

A new study from conservation group Plantlife has found that Scotland’s supply of juniper, the plant used to flavour gin, is being killed off by deadly fungal disease phytophthora austrocedrae.

by Phoebe Hurst
Oct 26 2015, 1:00pm

Foto von Lesley Wilson via Flickr

The clocks have gone back, you're wearing fleecy pyjamas without judgement, and that one housemate who "really feels the cold" is constructing a fortress of space heaters and duvets. Winter is almost upon us.

But just because it's getting chilly outside doesn't mean we have to start mainlining hot spiced cider. Some drinks transcend seasonal boundaries. Like gin, for example. Why confine the heavenly partnership of gin, tonic, and ice to mythical English summers? If you're freezing your arse off at a house party with a broken boiler in late November and fancy a G&T, go for it.

Unless you're in Scotland, that is. According to new research, the country is running out of an integral gin-making ingredient.

READ MORE: Brighton's First Distillery Is Trying to Make Hangover-Free Gin

A new study from wildlife conservation group Plantlife has revealed that Scotland's supply of juniper—the plant used to flavour gin and allow the drink to be legally labelled as such—is being killed off by deadly fungal disease phytophthora austrocedrae.

Using data collected via a volunteer science survey, the group found that 79 percent of juniper surveyed in Scotland in 2014 was either mature, old, or dead.

Juniper berries are dried and distilled with water to give gin its aromatic flavour. Once infected with phytophthora austrocedrae however, the plant turns from a healthy greenish blue to orange and then a deadly brown. Worryingly, Plantlife's survey found that 63 percent of Scotland's juniper had brown patches.

Speaking to the BBC, Deborah Long, head of Plantlife Scotland, said: "We know juniper populations are struggling but they now face an additional threat. It is thanks to these citizen scientists who have been helping us monitor the species that we can start working with landowners to help juniper communities become more resistant to the threats they face, including this new disease."

Juniper has grown on Scotland's mountains and woodlands since the last ice age and the country is home to around 80 percent of the UK's surviving juniper stock. As well as being bad news for negroni drinkers, the decline of the juniper plant could be critical for wildlife relying on the plant as a food source, such as the juniper shield bug.

While there are only around 400 hectares of juniper woodland in Britain, Scotland may not need to descend into the kind of panic the supposed Prosecco shortage inspired this summer. According to Scottish conservation charity Trees for Life, common juniper has the largest geographic range of any woody plant in the world, growing in much of North America, Europe, and some low-lying areas around the Mediterranean.

READ MORE: How a Gin Craze Nearly Destroyed 18th-Century London

Regardless, Plantlife and other wildlife campaigners hope that the survey acts as a rallying cry for Scottish conservationists. Fyfe and Mid-Scotland Conservative politician Murdo Fraser and "species champion" for juniper also told the BBC: "Juniper is one of our most iconic species [...] Today though, juniper is in trouble. Plantlife's report is a call to action for us all to do what we can for juniper."

You hear that, Scotland? Unless you fancy a future drinking vodka and Coke, it could be time to lend the juniper plant a helping hand.

Tagged:
Munchies
Food
scotland
Gin
Alcohol
plants
distillery
gin and tonic
Juniper
Negroni
Plantlife
Deborah Long
phytophthora austrocedrae
juniper berry