Exmoor plays host to some of the rarest trees in the country and, as everyone knows, there's safety in numbers when it comes to the secure future of species – which is why the local national park authority is celebrating a new project which could see a re-colonisation of the extremely scarce whitebeam, or sorbus, tree.
Seeds from Exmoor's rarer whitebeam species have this year been collected and are now being carefully germinated by a specialist local company so that they can be grown on into saplings which will one day repopulate the woods of the region.
The Exmoor National Park Authority's woodland projects officer, Loren Eldred, explained more about the initiative.
She said: "This autumn has been such an excellent season for tree fruit and nuts that we hoped we might be lucky with finding some fruit on some of the rare trees this year – so we were delighted when we came across a good number of fruit from Sorbus margaretae trees at Culbone Wood and even more fruit from several Sorbus devoniensis trees at Timberscombe Woods."
The ENPA is working with Tim Greenland, of Exmoor Trees based at Exford, who is now attempting to germinate some of the sorbus seeds extracted from the fruits. If this proves successful and the trees can be raised, they will be planted back into the ENPA woodlands when they are a few years old in order to help the species to survive into the future.
Mr Greenland commented: "Although it can be difficult to germinate the sorbus seeds, I am hopeful that by spring next year, we will have been able to raise a number of the tree seedlings."
Some of the sorbus species are so rare in the UK that they number just a few hundred trees or less.
Exmoor National Park plays host to several of the rarest Sorbus species – some of which grow nowhere else in the world – and most of these are to be found growing along the steep, rocky coastal woodlands and valleys.
Ms Eldred said: "They can be difficult to tell apart and identification in the field has to rely on subtle differences between leaves, flowers and berries. Sorbus devoniensis is slightly more widespread than some of the other rare sorbus species and tends to grow along woodland edges and in old hedges in the West Country, but it is still not a common tree."
You can discover a lot more information about the rare sorbus varieties in the Trees and Woodlands pages on the Exmoor National Park Authority's website: www.exmoor-nationalpark.gov.uk