Eden Project scheme will preserve coast redwood trees for future generations

Remaining specimens of tallest living things on Earth are under threat in Californian home, due to drought and forest fire

At the moment they are whippy saplings needing the support of canes to stand straight. Over hundreds – and hopefully thousands – of years, they will soar high into the Cornish sky.

Clones of some of the oldest and biggest coast redwoods have been flown in from the western seaboard of the USA to the Eden Project in the far south-west of Britain as part of a hugely ambitious scheme to preserve the magnificent trees for future generations.

Tim Grigg of the Eden Project prunes the coast redwood saplings.
Tim Grigg of the Eden Project prunes the coast redwood saplings. Photograph: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/Eden Project

Coast redwoods are the tallest living things on Earth, growing to 115 metres in height. But almost all have been cut down over the last 150 years and the remaining specimens are under threat in their west coast home because of drought, forest fire and the decline of the foggy, sometimes chilly, conditions they thrive in.

Experts from the Archangel Ancient Tree Archive, based in Michigan, have sent climbers to the top of the forest giants to take cuttings from the fastest growing shoots, and collected sprouts from the stumps of felled trees. New saplings have been cloned from these samples and sent to Cornwall.

The batch of redwoods delivered to Eden’s nursery comprises 10 specimens each of 10 remarkable trees, including the Fieldbrook stump, the remains of a famous northern Californian redwood felled in 1890 when it was around 3,500 years old.

Children on the Fieldbrook stump, date unknown
Children on the Fieldbrook stump, date unknown. Photograph: Ericson Collection, Humboldt State University Library

If it had not been cut down it would probably be the world’s largest tree by now. It left a stump more than 10 metres in diameter, wider than any other known single trunk. Material was taken from shoots that grew from the stump, to clone the new saplings.

David Milarch, co-founder of the AATA, described the project as “assisted migration” and said the arrival of the trees in Europe and at Eden was a historic moment.

“This will enable the formation of Europe’s first old-growth redwood forest,” he said. “Conditions in Cornwall and at Eden are perfect for redwoods, which help fight climate change by storing vast amounts of carbon. This new plantation will be a library of the tallest, oldest living things on earth.”

Biomes at the Eden Project in Cornwall
Biomes at the Eden Project in Cornwall. Photograph: Alan Copson/JAI/Corbis

Little by little, the aim of the AATA is to reforest the world and help battle climate change. “We’re doing this for our grandchildren. They deserve better than they are lined up to get,” said Milarch.

Each of the specimens that the AATA propagated are cloned from a single tree. This means that the resulting offspring are a full genetic match to the original whereas a specimen grown from a seed will have half of the DNA of each parent.

Sir Tim Smit, executive vice-chairman of the Eden Project, said the trees would be planted near the site’s northern boundary. “The idea is that when they grow they will be seen for miles around and become a new landmark. Planting saplings which could exceed the height of a 30-storey building and live for 4,000 years requires a different kind of planning.”

Tim Grigg, of the Eden Project, tending the coast redwood saplings.
Grigg tending the coast redwood saplings. Photograph: Emily Whitfield-Wicks/Eden Project

Inspired by the success of Archangel in propagating the ancient trees, Eden is planning a UK-wide ancient tree-cloning project. The UK has more ancient trees than the rest of northern Europe put together, with over 130,000 already mapped. Eden plans to follow the same model as AATA, cloning ancient trees and using them for reforestation.

Smit pointed out that the Eden project will not – in all probability – exist by the time the redwoods have reached full maturity. If its conservation goals are met, the place will be redundant; if they have failed then there may not be much left of the world as we know it.


Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Europe's first redwood forest planted at Eden Project
Though there is 5,000 miles between California and Cornwall, south-west England’s warm, damp climate is expected to suit the redwoods perfectly

Steven Morris

14, Mar, 2016 @1:27 PM

Plan to replicate Eden project around the world

After years of rejecting international suitors, plan to open number of like-minded ventures around the world

Haroon Siddique

26, Jan, 2009 @12:01 AM

Article image
Trump hails 1tn trees plan but ignores roots of problem
If US president really wants to protect trees he should rethink his climate-wrecking policies

Fiona Harvey

21, Jan, 2020 @3:17 PM

Article image
Ethiopia plants 350m trees in a day to help tackle climate crisis
National ‘green legacy’ initiative aims to reduce environmental degradation

Anna Ploszajski

29, Jul, 2019 @4:03 PM

Article image
Prince Charles announces funding scheme to protect rainforests

US pledges $275m to scheme for reducing deforestation and cutting carbon emissions

Karen McVeigh

19, Nov, 2009 @8:17 PM

Article image
Eden Project branches out with plans for Chinese and US sites
Spin-off foundation aims to create an Eden on every continent except Antartica – and one at an M5 service station

Maev Kennedy

28, Jul, 2017 @10:32 AM

Article image
Danish project aims to plant 1m trees across nation in TV fundraiser
Telethon asking viewers to give £2.4m for forests project to help tackle climate crisis

Gregory Robinson

13, Sep, 2019 @6:00 AM

Article image
Use your waste water to save street trees, experts urge
Dishwater and bathwater can be used to give vital support that councils often cannot afford to young trees

Amy Walker

01, Aug, 2019 @9:37 AM

Article image
Average westerner's eating habits lead to loss of four trees every year
Research links consumption of foods such as coffee and chocolate to global deforestation

Damian Carrington Environment editor

29, Mar, 2021 @3:00 PM

Article image
Eden Project to begin drilling for clean geothermal energy
Cornwall council and EU will fund scheme to tap into ‘hot rocks’ beneath attraction

Steven Morris

14, Oct, 2019 @8:32 AM