The UK’s Rarest Native Tree Comes to Wandsworth

The Black Poplar is Britain’s rarest native tree, with around 7,000 individual trees alive across the nation today. Enable, on behalf of Wandsworth Borough Council, are carrying out an exciting conservation project in King George’s Park, with roughly 20 young trees being planted. This is an especially exciting conservation project that aims to safeguard the future of a very rare species.  

The location of these trees is crucial, as they need to follow the ‘Right Place, Right Tree’ approach adopted in Wandsworth Council’s Tree Policy. Whilst we want to ensure the longevity of all trees planted in The Borough – Black Poplar’s are particularly sensitive and additional careful consideration was given to the location of the trees in this planting scheme. The Poplars will be planted along the banks of the Wandle in King George’s Park, as they need wetland environments to thrive – the loss of wetland environments across the UK is strongly linked to decline in Black Poplar numbers. Additionally, this location is already fenced off, granting greater protection and ensuring survival in the long term.  

Selecting the right location also ensures that the wider biodiversity benefits are maximised, with a focus on borough level connectivity. The central location of King George’s Park holds great significance. Right in the heart of Wandsworth, King George’s Park was declared as a site of Borough Importance in 2000 for its value as the central wildlife corridor within the area. This strip of natural habitat connects populations of wildlife otherwise separated by the surrounding built environment and is a prime location to benefit from this enhancement.  

Enable’s Biodiversity Officer, Mick, is leading the project. When asked about the significance of this project, he emphasised that “The trees being planted are clones of native specimens found on the bank of the Thames in Barnes, which adds value as it ensures the genetic strain is conserved within the local area, preserving genetic diversity of the species and encouraging long-term survival. This is very important for the success of not only this conservation project, but Black Poplar conservation more generally.”  

In early November, work started to prepare space for the Poplars. Some ground vegetation was cleared, and tree pits were created, additionally the canopy in some areas was opened to let in more light (whilst also using the wood produced to create some dead wood habitat on site!). Next week (commencing the 5th) the young Poplar trees will be going in the ground.  

This project is one of many that aims to enhance biodiversity through this central strip of Wandsworth. Connectivity is key – biodiversity improvements must be strategic to be maximally beneficial and sustainable, with a focus on how different habitats and species work in symbiosis. Careful consideration of habitat location is crucial in enhancing connectivity, so that we can maximise biodiversity value, allowing sites like King George’s Park to become wildlife corridors and act as sites of Borough Importance. Whilst they are a fast-growing species, we hope they will survive for around 100-300 years and create a stronghold of Black Poplars in Wandsworth.  

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