A clump of rare native black poplar trees has been planted along the River Weaver Navigation, near Northwich, in Cheshire, in a joint rescue mission to preserve the species by the Canal & River Trust waterways and wellbeing charity and Chester Zoo.
Black poplar trees would once have been a familiar sight on riverside woodlands and floodplains, but now they are one of the rarest tree species in the country. Changes in land management, with more drainage for agriculture and a reduction in the need for traditional timber, have meant fewer have been planted.
Only around 370 true black poplar trees have been recorded growing in Cheshire since 1990 and they are mostly mature trees which are gradually being lost through old age. The threat of the species being hybridised by other poplar varieties or disappearing completely inspired Chester Zoo to initiate a special conservation project to propagate true Cheshire black poplar cuttings to ensure the native tree’s survival.
This month the Trust, which cares for 2,000 miles of waterways across England and Wales, has planted half a dozen male and female trees from the project by the River Weaver in Hartford to encourage future propagation.
Sara Kirk, Canal & River Trust ecologist, said: “True black poplars need very specific conditions to reproduce naturally. Their seeds are short-lived, and male and female trees need to be sited close to each other, with fertilised seeds falling on damp ground.
“The Weaver valley, with its mosaic of woodland and wetland habitats beside the river, is an ideal site to kickstart the regeneration of these wonderful native trees. They are great for biodiversity and provide a fantastic natural home for moths, bees, birds and butterflies.
“Mature black poplars add an attractive, striking presence to the landscape, particularly in early spring when the male trees are covered in distinctive red catkins. They can grow up to 30 metres tall, 20 metres wide and live for around 200 years. We hope our trees will thrive in their new home and help to ensure the survival of this wonderful native tree in Cheshire for many generations to come.”
For more information about visiting the River Weaver Valley Park, donating or volunteering with the Canal & River Trust, check out the website: www.canalrivertrust.org.uk