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Christmas has come early for students and staff at Heriot-Watt University - in the form of a conservation gift including Scotland’s rarest tree.

The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh (RBGE) has donated 21 trees of eight species including the rare Catacol whitebeam (Sorbus pseudomeinichii).

The rare tree was first described as new to science in 2006 and there is only one of its kind currently growing wild on the Isle of Arran, on the west coast of Scotland.

Now, the Catacol whitebeam along with some rare species of conifers will be planted on Riccarton Campus, as part of international efforts to help save trees from extinction.

Staff from the university and Royal Botanic Gardens are set to carefully monitor the trees and biological data will be recorded which will be used for conservation research and public outreach.

The conifers, being planted before Christmas, will form part of the RBGE-based International Conifer Conservation Programme’s (ICCP) network of safe sites for threatened conifers.

Robbie Fraser, landscape manager at Heriot-Watt said: “We’re delighted to be working in close partnership with the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh on this important conservation project.

“At Riccarton Campus we have a long history of tree planting which is intertwined with the Royal Botanic Garden. It’s fantastic that this partnership, which started back in the Victorian era has been revitalised.

“The campus will offer the endangered species a safe site where we can continue to record much needed data. All our students and staff are very much looking forward to seeing these new additions to our tree family.”

William Hinchliffe, senior horticulturist, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh said:

“Ex-situ conservation is an important element of the work we do and it seems entirely appropriate we should be working with Herriot Watt University to grow these eight species of tree.

“Of particular interest are three Picea koyamae Japanese spruce, critically endangered in the wild where a population of fewer than 1000 occurs on just two mountains.

“This ex-situ conservation is a proactive step and part of a wider conservation effort to ensure this species does not become extinct.

“Today also recognises the contribution of Sir William Gibson Craig as a supporter of RBGE and a key member the government responsible for gifting of land at Inverleith allowing for the expansion of the Garden in 1864.”

The Riccarton estate has a varied history of tree planting. Sir William Gibson Craig the proprietor of the house until 1878 was a member of the Oregon Society which sent out John Jefferey, a plant collector from the Botanics, in 1850 to collect seeds of trees from North-West America.

Many of these seeds made their way back to Scotland and in 1884 many fine trees were reported to be growing in the collection at Riccarton.

Unfortunately many of the trees planted by Sir William have been lost to storms over the years but many of the Sequoiadendrons planted in 1867 still survive today.