Out of the woods for endangered species?

Roger Jefcoate with MP John Bercow and Julie Mills, mayor of Kensington and Chelsea in Holland Park with black poplar saplings for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee
Roger Jefcoate with MP John Bercow and Julie Mills, mayor of Kensington and Chelsea in Holland Park with black poplar saplings for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee
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An environmental project pioneered by a Mursley man over 30 years ago is about to host an international conference.

Roger Jefcoate, who now lives in Winslow, has been planting black poplar cuttings in the local area since about 1980, when he realised that Aylesbury Vale probably held up to half of the native population nationally of the endangered species.

The black poplar is our tallest native tree, which features in many quintessentially English landscape paintings such as Constable’s The Hay Wain.

But the magnificent species is also one of the UK’s rarest, due to the loss of its natural habitat.

Mr Jefcoate has been on a mission to repopulate the countryside with black poplars ever since he heard a retired Kew Gardens botanist on the radio describing the endangered trees, and realised he could see them in the area around Mursley.

Within two or three weeks, he had identified about 100 trees, and began his personal project to plant more male and female black poplar cuttings.

Mr Jefcoate has grown and planted hundreds of black poplars throughout the Vale as well as Britain’s Royal parks, Buckingham Palace, Sandringham, Lambeth Palace, Chequers, and he even replaced those painted by John Constable at Salisbury Cathedral.

In 2010, he was asked to supply black poplars for planting in every London borough to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

Mr Jefcoate first alerted Aylesbury Vale District Council (AVDC) to the Vale’s special relationship with the trees 30 years ago.

And in 1999 the UK Black Poplar Conservation Group was set up by AVDC’s biodiversity team with the objective of co-ordinating conservation efforts nationally.

Biodiversity officer Matt Dodds referred to Mr Jefcoate as “the father of black poplar conservation in this area”.

In 2011, the national black poplar clone bank was established in Aylesbury, creating a collection of cuttings taken from genetically distinct trees from all over the country.

In 2014, the biodiversity team provided the first native black poplar seed for the Millennium Seed Bank, an internationally important conservation project.

And in March AVDC’s biodiversity group will share its knowlege with similar conservation projects at an international Black Poplar Conservation Group conference it is hosting at College Lakes, near Tring.

It has set up a partnership with Landscape Matters tree nursery, in Kingswood, to supply native black poplars on a commercial basis, and AVDC receives £1 for every tree supplied.

The new Arla development landscape scheme saw 3,000 black poplars planted at the biodiversity team’s request, representing a 25 per cent increase in the UK population of the trees.

And the new Kingsbrook development will create the UK’s largest black poplar woodland.