Uplands for juniper

Juniper tree at Caudale MoorJuniper tree at Caudale Moor

The wonderfully varied growth forms of the common juniper will be familiar to many people in the county and we are fortunate to have hundreds of colonies of this species in Cumbria.

Unfortunately many of these stands are not regenerating though, and unless action is taken, some colonies could disappear.

The Uplands for Juniper project aims to assure the future of juniper in the county through targeted survey and restoration work. It will provide an up to date snapshot of the health of Cumbrian juniper and will aim to restore those stands most in need of intervention.

Have a look at The Juniper Tree our newsletter which tells you more about what we have achieved so far.


Juniper has an important place in the history and cultural heritage of Cumbria. Before man started to fell woodlands and graze upland areas, juniper was an important constituent of tree-line vegetation. This was found above 600 metres altitude, where stunted pines would grow alongside juniper in a transition to montane vegetation which can better withstand extreme conditions at these altitudes.

Junipers current distribution in the uplands owes more to changing land use over the centuries, and in particular is thought to be due to periodic declines in agriculture, which would have allowed bursts of juniper regeneration. Its past abundance is revealed by its many recorded uses. It was used as a base for haystacks, a replacement for barbed wire on wall tops, and also as the perfect fuel for the distillation of illicit liquor, due to its low smoke output when burnt! Juniper charcoal was used in the production of gunpowder and was planted in the south of the county to help meet demand.

Juniper berries are still used as the main flavour for gin and as an addition to game dishes, but they were once used more extensively for a host of purposes including treatment of stomach ailments and as an aid to abortion!

Conservation status

Juniper is now declining across the country, and Cumbria has more extensive stands than any other county. Its importance within the county is illustrated by its inclusion in the Cumbria Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP), and it is one of only 21 species considered a priority for the county.

Juniper has declined in recent years because of poor regeneration of the plant. Many stands of juniper in Cumbria originate from the 17th to 19th centuries when fluctuating levels of mining and farming activity provided opportunities for regeneration. Juniper bushes may live for up to 200 years, meaning that many stands are now nearing the end of their lifespan. Continuous grazing by sheep on juniper saplings and the reduced seed viability of older plants, limits the opportunities for natural regeneration.

Survey work

Over the three-year life of the project, we will be re-surveying over 300 stands of juniper that were originally surveyed in the 1970s by Lena Ward. We will gather information on the size of stands, number of trees and also get an estimate of the age composition of the stand. We will also look at the adjacent vegetation to estimate the grazing pressure around juniper stands, and therefore judge the potential for regeneration.

Restoration work

Juniper woods which are not regenerating and have a high proportion of old and dieing trees will be prioritised for restoration work. Restoration will provide a burst of regeneration through planting saplings and protecting these from grazing animals for a number of years.


Daniel Sencier, a third year student at the University of Cumbria, is writing his final year dissertation on the links between Juniper and the gunpowder industry in Cumbria. Learn more about this project by following his blog. Daniel has also kindly made these films showing junipers being planted in the uplands.

Funded by:


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Juniper newsletter May 2012.pdf492.7 KB