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.

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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