Botanist and broadcaster, James Wong, joins Forestry England at Bedgebury National Pinetum and Forest in Kent today to help plant six critically endangered Wollemi pine trees. The planting event is the first stage of an international conservation effort to establish a flourishing, genetically diverse population of these rare trees across the world.
More than 170 young Wollemi pine trees grown by Botanic Gardens of Sydney were shipped from Australia and have been carefully looked after at Forestry England’s tree nursery at Bedgebury. Six will be planted there today to become part of the living collection at the National Pinetum, while the remaining trees have been distributed to 28 botanic gardens across the UK and Europe. Separate collections of trees have been sent direct from Sydney to five Australian botanic gardens and one in Atlanta in the USA.
Wollemi pines have been dubbed the ‘dinosaur tree’ because fossil records show they were living 200 million years ago alongside the dinosaurs. It was thought they had become extinct between 70 and 90 million years ago until a chance discovery in 1994, when a small group of living trees was found by an Australian explorer and botanist, David Noble, growing in a remote gorge in the Wollemi National Park in New South Wales. This moment is considered one of the greatest botanical discoveries of our time. The tree species is now classified as critically endangered on the IUCN's red list, an important indicator of the world’s biodiversity which sets out the risks of extinction for plant and animal species.
Since its discovery, there has been a concerted effort to insure the species against the loss of the remaining wild trees, with fewer than 100 left growing in a gorge 150 kilometres from Sydney. These wild trees are increasingly vulnerable to threats from diseases and wildfires and narrowly escaped being destroyed by wildfires in 2019-2020 which burnt more than 10 million hectares of land in eastern Australia.