Black Poplar - Species Action Plan

Ref L/S1 Local Species Action Plan 1
Plan Author: Gerry Barnes (Norfolk County Council)
Plan Leader: Norfolk County Council
Stage: Version 1 February 2004
Final Version September 2005

Action Plan Summary

Current Status

National Status

  • There are an estimated 7,000 native black poplars in Britain, chiefly occurring south of a line from the Mersey to the Wash. Many of these are believed to be genetic clones, so there are probably considerably fewer distinct genotypes. The tree has strongholds in Shropshire, Cheshire, the Vale of Aylesbury and Suffolk. The vast majority of the trees have reached maturity and there has been very little planting of new trees until recently. Female trees are particularly rare, with an estimated 400 nationally. Seed germination is restricted to the unvegetated banks and bars of low intervention river systems. Britain's well-managed rivers have lacked suitable habitats for centuries. Consequently, the current population reflects former planting preferences rather than any natural distribution pattern, and it is not surprising that genetic diversity is low. Hybrid crosses of the European black poplar (Populus nigra ssp typica) and the American cottonwood (Populus deltoides) have been extensively planted in place of the native tree over the last 200 years. There has been much mis-identification of hybrids as natives and vice versa.

Norfolk Status

  • Formerly more common in Norfolk, now approximately 70 mature trees survive. Of these, just one is female. Many trees are in poor condition and mortality rates are high, with about a third of all the trees ever recorded now gone. There are known to be some young and medium aged trees but distinguishing them from hybrids can be difficult. Some young trees supplied from nurseries as native have turned out to be hybrids. Much of the new planting has not been recorded in terms of site or source.


  • Poplar pollen is seldom recorded in the pollen record because of its susceptibility to decay.
  • Fourteenth century records from the Norfolk-Suffolk border record black poplar growing on the margins of the Breckland Fens. Tusser in his 1573 poem "The Owl and the Nightingale" records how black poplar was often pollarded "lop poplar and sallow, elme and prie".
  • Black poplar appears always to have been a tree of hedges and open spaces. It has apparently never been a woodland tree.


  • Section 13 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, as amended, prohibits the unauthorised uprooting of any wild plant species. Black poplars are not on Schedule 8 of the Act (those protected from any picking, uprooting or destruction) and only benefit from the general protection mentioned above.
  • Some trees may be protected using Tree Preservation Orders under the Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999. These are normally only served where it is known that a tree is under threat from felling. Some trees may lie within Conservation Areas associated with villages and flood meadows and would be afforded some protection. A felling licence (Forestry Act 1967) may be required if a landowner wished to fell a number of trees.
  • Where a black poplar grows within a hedgerow, the Hedgerows Regulations 1997 would afford some protection to the tree and hedge.

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Current factors affecting the habitat in Norfolk

  • Loss of both natural river systems and unstable floodplain sediments results in an absence of suitable habitat for natural regeneration.
  • The lack of native male trees in close proximity to native females means there is very little opportunity for fertilisation. There is only one female mature tree in Norfolk.
  • The presence of large numbers of hybrid trees means that seed from female trees is very likely to be hybridised.
  • The trees are often large, isolated specimens; as a result, there are high losses from natural factors such as old age, drought and windblow.
  • Fallen trees which would otherwise survive in situ or regenerate from the stump are often removed.
  • The widely dispersed population makes site based conservation more difficult.
  • Widely available and commercially preferable hybrids have been planted in preference to native stock for the last 150 years.

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Current Action in Norfolk

  • Norfolk County Council holds a central register, and has compiled a list of where trees are, and are being planted.
  • Dissemination of information to owners of trees takes place on an ad hoc basis.
  • A collection of cuttings from recorded trees has been established at a clone-bank at Morley.
  • A number of trees have been propagated from recorded sources for planting locally. The location of some of this planting is recorded, and occasionally, the source tree is identified. Such planting is grant aided by the County Council.

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Action Plan Objectives and Targets


  • There is no national action plan for this species. 


  • Conserve the existing stock of 70 mature trees.
  • Distribute at least 150 rooted cuttings by the end of 2008. 

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Mabey, R. 1996. The Native Black Poplar: A Species in the Ghetto. British Wildlife 8(1): 1-6.

Milne-Redhead, E. 1990. The BSBI Black Poplar Survey 1973-1988. Watsonia: 1-5

Norfolk County Council. 1994. The Native Black Poplar in you have a suitable site? Leaflet and application form. NCC, Norwich. 

Spencer, J. 1994. The Native Black Poplar in Britain. An Action Plan for its conservation. English Nature, Newbury, Berkshire.

White, J. 1993. Black Poplar: The most endangered native timber tree in Britain. The Forestry Authority Research Information Note 239. 


Gerry Barnes 
Environment Manager (Operations) 
Planning and Transportation Department 
Norfolk County Council 
County Hall 
Martineau Lane 
Norwich NR1 2SG
Tel: 01603-222764 

Graeme Cresswell
Forestry Officer
Planning and Transportation Department
Norfolk County Council
County Hall
Martineau Lane
Norwich NR1 2SG
Tel: 01603-222765 

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