Campaign launched to give mistletoe the kiss of life

PUBLISHED: 08:28 07 December 2010 | UPDATED: 18:15 20 February 2013

Campaign launched to give mistletoe the kiss of life

Campaign launched to give mistletoe the kiss of life

One of the traditional symbols of Christmas, mistletoe, may disappear from some areas of the British countryside in the next twenty years, warn naturalists.

One of the traditional symbols of Christmas, mistletoe, may disappear from some areas of the British countryside in the next twenty years, warn naturalists.

Today sees the launch of a new campaign, led by the National Trust, to encourage people to help secure the future of mistletoe in its heartland by buying sustainably sourced home-grown mistletoe in the run up to Christmas and the season of office parties. The campaign also encourages shoppers to ask where the mistletoe they are buying has come from.

The heartland for mistletoe is cider country Somerset, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire and Worcestershire and this is where it has an uncertain future as its main habitat is traditional orchards, which have declined dramatically in the last sixty years.

Simon Larkins, South and Park Manager, explained that Mistletoe is an important part of the Trusts orchards, including the one at Montacute House.

We have significant amounts of Mistletoe at both Montacute and also at Barrington Court and see it as an integral part of maintaining the traditional orchards. We love Mistletoe and have successfully propagated it in our orchards. We would want people to think about where the Mistletoe for their festive kisses comes from.

At the Montacute orchard the Mistletoe is harvested carefully to leave enough both for the plant to survive but also for wildlife including a very rare Mistletoe moth which was first found in the UK in south Somerset. The moth, present at Montacute and Tintinhull, is so well camouflaged it is usually only identified by the marks it leaves on Mistletoe leaves.

Peter Brash, National Trust Ecologist, is urging Britons to think about where their mistletoe comes from: Mistletoe is part of our Christmas heritage and has a special place in a wonderful winter landscape. It would be a sad loss if mistletoe disappeared all together from its heartland and we end up relying on imports of mistletoe from mainland Europe.

Mistletoe is commonly found on fruit trees where it is relatively easy to harvest but can also be seen on other host trees such lime, poplar and hawthorn across a wider area of the UK. The best time to sow new mistletoe seeds on host trees is in February and March.

Mistletoe is a parasitic plant which prefers the domestic apple tree as its host. Data shows that mistletoe distribution is closely linked to that of lightly managed, traditional orchards, particularly in the most prolific mistletoe growing area of the South West and Midlands.

Traditional orchards have declined by at least sixty per cent since the 1950s (and by up to ninety per cent in Devon and Kent) and with them, an important habitat for the plant.

A project launched by the National Trust and Natural England in 2009 aims to reverse the loss of this habitat by restoring traditional orchards, supporting small cottage industries producing cider and juices and promoting the growth of community run orchards.

In recent years there has also been an increase in the sale of imported mistletoe from Europe, particularly from northern France.

Leading mistletoe expert Jonathan Briggs, explained: Mistletoe benefits from management. Regular, managed cropping will ensure that the host tree remains productive while ensuring that a healthy population of mistletoe will persist.

If mistletoe became more inaccessible because of an ongoing decline of traditional orchards and a loss of its main host, fruit trees, then it might become more a premium product with more scarce supply.

Mistletoe also plays an important role in supporting wildlife. It provides winter food for birds such as the blackcap and mistle thrush.

It also supports a total of six specialist insects including the scarce mistletoe marble moth, some sap-sucking bugs and the affectionately named kiss me slow weevil (Ixapion variegatum).

Peter Brash added: Ensuring your mistletoe comes from a sustainably managed, British source is good news all round. You will be supporting a small home grown industry, while helping to ensure a future for mistletoe and the creatures that are dependent upon it. Youll be kissing with a clear conscience this Christmas.

In the UK mistletoe has long been associated with Christmas and mid-winter customs, probably dating way back into prehistory as a symbol of ongoing life in the winter months. The kissing custom is a very British version of those ancient traditions.

Over the channel in France slightly different traditions evolved over time, with mistletoe seen as a good luck symbol at the New Year, rather than kissing at Christmas.

Further information about the mistletoe campaign can be found at

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