The Black Poplar Project aims to increase genetic diversity in the UK's rarest native hardwood tree.


February 2021:

Year-old Phase II cuttings have been moved from the raised bed at Vine Road out our onto our tree nursery on the Common. They have been added to 60 Phase I whips, bringing the total to 180 genetically diverse whips. 


The Black Poplar (Populus nigra ssp. betulifolia) is one of the rarest, native, deciduous hardwood trees in the UK. The primary drivers for their decline have been habitat loss and poor genetic diversity.

Black Poplars are a floodplain species, thriving in waterlogged habitats and, with natural wetlands being drained for agricultural and infrastructure purposes, there are increasingly few places available for natural regeneration.

The genus is dioecious (either male or female) and female trees are particularly rare, with an estimated 600 nationally. Britain’s intensively managed rivers have lacked suitable habitats for centuries and consequently, the current population reflects former planting preferences rather than any natural distribution pattern. Planting has been restricted to vegetative cuttings, and this is the main reason why genetic diversity is low. In addition, there was very little planting of new trees until the late 1990s.

Extensive genetic testing, led by Jamie Simpson (Conservation Arborist), has identified the Borough of Richmond as having some of the highest levels of genetic diversity of Black Poplars anywhere in the country. Of great interest is the population along the Thames towpath at Barnes, which is believed to be a remnant wild population.

The Friends of Barnes Common are proud to be working with Jamie and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames to help give this rare and unique species a better chance of survival.

Since 2019, cuttings have been taken from nearly 50 identified unique clones and we now have over 300 saplings within the nursery. Some of these unique clones have already been planted out by their parent trees along the Thames Towpath at Barnes, whilst others have gone to important sites for nature conservation across the UK.

Through this programme of propagation and rigorous recording, we hope to ensure genetic diversity is not lost, to identify strengths and susceptibilities in specific clones, and to strengthen a robust platform for further research.

For more information please contact Will.


Native Black Poplar Species Action Plan 2019 – 2029

Conservation of Black Poplar: DNA Fingerprinting Approach

Barnes/Putney Black Poplar Report

Black Poplar Statement of Importance 2012

Black Poplar General Information

LBRuT Biodiversity Action Plan

Related Links:

Friends of Barnes Common (FoBC)
Vine Road Pavilion
Vine Road
Barnes SW13 0NE

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