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Drive to save countryside mistletoe

One of the traditional symbols of Christmas may disappear from some areas of the British countryside in the next 20 years, naturalists have warned.

A campaign, led by the National Trust, has been launched to save mistletoe in its English heartland.

The public are being encouraged to help secure its future by buying sustainably sourced home-grown mistletoe in the run up to Christmas and the office party season.

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. Its main habitat is traditional orchards, which have declined dramatically in the last 60 years.

Peter Brash, a National Trust ecologist, said: "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. We could end up relying on imports of mistletoe from mainland Europe for those festive kisses."

Mistletoe is commonly found on fruit trees where it is relatively easy to harvest but can also be seen on other host trees such as 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 a host.

Data shows that mistletoe distribution is closely linked to that of lightly managed, traditional orchards, particularly in the most prolific mistletoe growing areas of the South West and Midlands.

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.

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