Trust branches out to clone ancient native hazel trees

A cloned native hazel tree has produced its first nut under the tender care of horticulturalists at Shetland Amenity Trust.

Paul Goddard and Steven Hawkins with the cloned hazelnut tree. Photo: Shetland Amenity Trust

The woodlands team based at Staney Hill in Lerwick has successfully pollinated the tree which is a relict of Shetland ancient woodlands.

Around 5,000 years ago it is thought Shetland was largely covered in trees and scrub, though the native hazel trees had all but died out.

Until recently there were two native hazel trees growing in Shetland, one in a ravine at Catfirth and the other on an island holm at Punds Water, Northmavine. The Punds Water tree has died but the Catfirth specimen remains and has played its part in bringing the trust’s new tree to life.

The team cloned the Catfirth tree through a process called “layering”. The cloned tree was then taken to the horticultural unit and further clones have also been successful.

Paul Goddard leads the woodlands team. He said: “The final piece in the jigsaw was to pollinate the cloned trees. We used pollen that had been harvested from the Punds Water tree before it disappeared.

“We didn’t know if it would work and it was a long wait to find out. We couldn’t believe it when we came in one day and spotted the hazelnut appearing from under the leaves.”

Samples taken from peat show that, around 5,000 years ago there were high levels of tree pollen representing a diverse range of species including rowan, birch, willow, hazel and alder.

The tree has produced its first hazelnut. Photo: Shetland Amenity Trust

Mr Goddard explained: “At around the 5,000 years mark, the pollen levels in the peat drop away rapidly as trees began to disappear from our landscape. This coincides with the time that humans started to inhabit the islands, it is also a period when our climate began to change and became cooler and wetter.

“Both are thought to be contributing factors in the demise of our native woodlands.”

The trust germinates over 5,000 trees each year and recently assisted with tree planting at the new Anderson High School. When digging at the site they found relicts of native birch in the peat.

The horticultural unit will be hosting an open day as part of the Shetland Nature Festival where you can come along and find out more about the hazel tree and its nut on Friday 12th July.


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