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A native Shetland Hazelnut

Published: 25 June 2019

Growing quietly in the Staney Hill horticultural unit, a relict of Shetland’s ancient woodlands is springing to life once more. The woodlands team at the Shetland Amenity Trust have successfully cloned and pollinated the last native hazel tree in Shetland and it has produced its first hazelnut.

Until recently there were two native hazel trees growing in Shetland, one in a ravine at Catfirth and the other on an island holm at Punds Water.  These Hazel trees were the last remaining survivors of their kind from Shetland’s ancient native woodlands.   The tree at Punds Water is now gone but the tree at Catfirth remains.  The team have successfully cloned the Catfirth tree through a process called ‘layering’.  The cloned tree was then taken to the horticultural unit and further clones have also been successful. 

Paul Goddard who leads the woodlands team said, “The final piece in the jigsaw was to pollinate the cloned trees.  We used pollen that had been harvested from the Pundswater tree before it disappeared.  We didn’t know if it would work and it was a long wait to find out.  We couldn’t believe it when we came in one day and spotted the hazelnut appearing from under the leaves.”

It is believed that over 5,000 years ago much of Shetland was covered in trees and scrub.  Samples taken from the peat show that there were high levels of tree pollen at that time representing a diverse range of tree species including Rowan, Birch, Willow, Hazel and Alder.  Paul Goddard continued, “at around the 5,000 years mark, the pollen levels in the peat drop away rapidly as trees began to disappear from our landscape.  This coincides with the time that humans started to inhabit the islands, it is also a period when our climate began to change and became cooler and wetter.  Both are thought to be contributing factors in the demise of our native woodlands.”

The Shetland Amenity Trust germinate over 5,000 trees each year and recently assisted with tree planting at the new Anderson High School.  When digging at the site they found relicts of native birch in the peat.  The Trust have supported many communities, crofters and land owners in planting trees and can provide support and advice on planting and grants that might be available. 

The horticultural unit will be hosting an open day as part of the Shetland Nature Festival where you can come along and find out more.  The hazel tree and its nut will be proudly on display and you can come along and see it and meet the team on Friday 12th of July.  Tickets are available at the Unit on the day at a cost of £2.50 and this includes a free tree!  Find out more at www.shetlandamenity.org/shetland-nature-festival.