SWINDON, England, Dec. 14, 2010 /PRNewswire/ -- The National Trust is launching a new campaign to encourage people to help secure the future of mistletoe in its heartland by buying sustainably sourced home-grown mistletoe in the run up to Christmas and the season of office parties. The campaign is also encouraging shoppers to ask where the mistletoe they are buying has come from.
The heartland for mistletoe is Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire, and this is where the plant is under threat as its main habitat of traditional orchards have declined dramatically in the last sixty years.
Peter Brash, National Trust ecologist, is urging Britons to think about where their mistletoe comes from: "Mistletoe is part of our Christmas heritage and has a special place in a wonderful winter landscape. It would be a sad loss if mistletoe disappeared all together from its heartland.
"We could end up relying on imports of mistletoe from mainland Europe for those festive kisses."
Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which is commonly found on fruit trees, particularly domestic apple trees where it is relatively easy to harvest. It can also be seen on other host trees such as lime, poplar and hawthorn across a wider area of the UK. Mistletoe distribution is closely linked to that of lightly managed, traditional orchards, with the most prolific mistletoe growing areas being the South West and Midlands.
Traditional orchards have declined by at least sixty per cent since the 1950s (and by up to ninety per cent in Devon and Kent) and with them, an important habitat for the plant. To help reverse this loss, the National Trust and Natural England launched a project in 2009 to restore traditional orchards, support small cottage industries producing cider and juices and promote the growth of community run orchards.
Mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs, explained: "Mistletoe benefits from management. Unchecked, it will swamp its host tree and ultimately cause it to die. Regular, managed cropping will ensure that the host tree remains productive while ensuring that a healthy population of mistletoe will persist."
If mistletoe became more inaccessible because of an ongoing decline of traditional orchards and a loss of its main host, it may become more of a premium product due to scarce supply.
Mistletoe also plays an important role in supporting wildlife, providing winter food for birds like the blackcap and mistle thrush.
It also supports a total of six specialist insects including the scarce mistletoe marble moth, some sap-sucking bugs and the affectionately named 'kiss me slow weevil' (Ixapion variegatum).
Peter Brash added: "Ensuring your mistletoe comes from a sustainably managed, British source is good news all round. You will be supporting a small home grown industry, while helping to ensure a future for mistletoe and the creatures that are dependent upon it. You'll be kissing with a clear conscience this Christmas."
About the National Trust:
The National Trust is one of the most important nature conservation organisations in Europe with over 1,000 sites covering 250,000 hectares, including coastal sites, woodland and upland areas; many of which are rich in wildlife. All 17 species of UK bat have been recorded as roosting or breeding on National Trust land and 96 per cent of all resident UK butterflies can be found on our land. Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire is the most species rich site and 93 per cent of the land has been surveyed for its nature conservation importance.
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SOURCE The National Trust