The River Colne Countryside Project in partnership with its sister project on the Stour Valley has been seeking to re-establish the distinctive and elegant tree, the Native Black Poplar, (Populus nigra, sub species betulifolia).
Known as Britain’s rarest timber tree, the tree was originally a common component of flood plains, river banks and other wet areas. The specialised conditions of unmanaged riverbanks of hundreds of years ago led to successful germination as the seed of the tree needs to lie on undisturbed wet mud from June to October. It is doubtful if any successful natural reproduction has occurred for hundreds of years due to the isolation of remaining examples.
Its presence today is due to the economic value of the timber it produces. Its flexible, non-combustible and load bearing qualities led it to being used in the construction of buildings, brake blocks and even arrows on the Mary Rose.
Markets for this type of use have largely disappeared, but the gnarled bark provides a home for a wide range of insects and the distinctive sweeping branches and lean make this an important element of lowland English countryside in terms of wildlife habitat and landscape feature.
20 years ago experts were predicting that the tree could become extinct. Interested groups came together to save this tree. In the Colne and Stour Valleys cuttings from mature specimens have been taken, DNA tested, and grown on. Over the past few years many new trees have been planted out and the Project continues to look for new sites to plant this magnificent tree.
If you think you may know of an appropriate site and would like to help, contact the River Colne Countryside Project who may be able to offer a tree for planting and help conserve one of Britains rarest trees.
Project Officer, River Colne Countryside Project