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Aspen (Populus tremula)

Aspen, Two aspen trees

Ecology

Aspen is a deciduous tree, native to the UK although it is only ‘common’ in the Scottish Highlands. It is often known as ‘quaking aspen’ due to the beautiful shimmering effect of the leaves when they flutter in the wind. Aspen is famous for its vibrant display of yellow and red before the leaves fall in autumn. As a pioneer species, aspen was one of the first trees to recolonise after the last ice age and is well adapted to many habitats, however it will mainly be found in ancient woodland or well-drained but moist soil near rivers or standing water. Aspen is a keystone species and large stands provide habitat for a multitude of rare wildlife, more so than any other native British tree. Aspen is extremely palatable for grazing animals such as sheep and deer and is thought to be the favourite food of the European beaver. 

Reason for decline

Aspen rarely produces viable seed and is thought to mainly reproduce through the production of vegetative suckers. These suckers are simply small saplings that emerge from the sprawling root system of a ‘parent’ tree. They can emerge as far as 40m away but are often quickly browsed by deer and livestock. This means that wild aspen populations are often fragmented and found as a single tree or in isolated groups of one genetic clone. Historic removal of ancient woodland, land use change and grazing pressure are just some of the key drivers of aspen decline in the UK and account for its current patchy distribution.

Project aims

The BooM project aims to increase the connectivity of aspen in south Cumbria. We will take hard-root cuttings from aspen across the project area, and work with community stakeholder organisations such as Green Heart Den and Artgene to propagate the cuttings, with the aim to generate a clone bank of local south Cumbrian aspen clones.  

These will then be planted back into the landscape, giving people who have been involved in growing and propagating aspen the opportunity to re-plant it in its rightful place.

 

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