Black Poplar Project

The black poplar is one of the most endangered native trees in Britain. It is a local Biodiversity Action Priority species in Cheshire, and Chester Zoo has led conservation action for this rare tree in the county for over 12 years.

Approximately 370 mature specimens have been recorded growing in Cheshire since 1990 but they are mostly mature trees that are gradually being lost through old age. Historically male trees were planted more than females as the females produce lots of fluffy seeds that can spoil crops, or make a mess in gardens. 

Black poplars are usually found in hedges and boundaries, where they have been planted singly as cuttings – there are no sites in Cheshire where they are regularly producing true seed. These poplars can hybridise with some other types of poplars if they are growing nearby, so most seed produced is not a true black poplar. Studies show that genetic diversity in the old trees is very restricted in the UK.

Conservation action includes:

  • Recording and monitoring the old trees. (The data is held at RECORD)
  • Genetic testing to identify different clones within the Cheshire poplars
  • Propagating from identified clones of both sexes, and providing new young trees for planting schemes in the region
  • Encouraging planting of males and females in places where seed might survive in the future
  • Giving advice and raising awareness about these trees

Propagation is carried out at the zoo and with some project partners, and young trees are available for large and small planting schemes (like individual landowners and large roadside planting schemes).

A complete resurvey of Cheshire black poplars is currently in progress.

Project partners

rECOrd Cheshire Wildlife Trust  Mersey Forest

Project team

Key Facts

Over 1,000 new trees, raised from cuttings of Cheshire poplars, have been planted into suitable sites in the county since 1995
These trees grow very large, and their roots can block drains, so they aren't really suitable for gardens
Genetic testing of 105 mature trees from Cheshire has found only 7 different clones - 4 males & 3 females.

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