A species of tree that grows along the Menai Strait is one of hundreds around the world on the brink of extinction.

There are only 30 Menai whitebeams left growing in the tree's North Wales home and the species could vanish altogether, warn botanical experts in the first “state of the world’s trees” report.

The assessment of how the world’s nearly 60,000 tree species are faring has found 30 per cent (17,500) of them are at risk of extinction, with well-known species such as magnolia among the most threatened.

Oaks, maple and ebonies are also at risk, according to the report published by Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI).

The study compiles work from the Global Tree Assessment over the last five years, which has seen more than 60 institutions and some 500 experts examine the extinction risk for the world’s 58,497 tree species.

One in five tree species is directly used by humans for food, fuel, timber, medicines, horticulture and other uses.

But despite trees’ value to people, at least 142 species are recorded as extinct and many more face extinction because of over-exploitation and mismanagement.

The report warns that more than 440 tree species are on the brink of extinction, as they have fewer than 50 individuals remaining in the wild, including the Menai whitebeam.

On the plight of that species, Julia Jones, professor in conservation science at Bangor University, said: “Sorbus trees, also known as rowan and whitebeams, are one of the most diverse tree groups in Europe (with 170 native species).

“There is some discussion about whether the numerous micro-species should be considered individual species but many are threatened and it is important to conserve diversity at every level.

“We are working with the North Wales Wildlife Trust and FossilPlants to safeguard this small community.”

According to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, whitebeams grow in very localised areas, and the way they produce seeds means they have difficulty adapting to habitat change.

The seeds whitebeams produce are genetically identical to the parent tree, meaning that if the trees grow well in a specific area, they are able to thrive in that spot over multiple generations. But if there are small changes to that habitat the trees have little ability to adapt to their changed environment.

While this species may be at risk of the wider effects of climate change, in many cases trees are threatened globally by more direct human activity such as clearances for agricultural crops, logging for timber, and clearing forest for livestock.

In Europe, 58 per cent of native European trees are threatened with extinction in the wild, with whitebeams and rowan the most at risk, while Brazil has the highest number of threatened tree species.

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Islands have the highest proportion of threatened trees, with 69 per cent of trees on the UK Overseas Territory of St Helena at risk of extinction, and 59 per cent of those found in Madagascar.

“In the Caribbean the increasing intensity and frequency of hurricanes caused by climate change is compounding the effect of global warming, threatening the survival of endangered tree species in mountain forests," John Healey, professor of forest sciences at Bangor University, said.

“Our research in the Blue Mountains of Jamaica is showing that following hurricane impact rare montane tree species, many of which occur nowhere else in the world, are being displaced by species from lower altitudes.

“The Jamaican Blue Mountains are a global biodiversity hotspot, which is threatened by a ‘perfect storm’ of climate change, invasive species and degradation of the remaining forests”.

Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI), which published the report, is calling for governments and experts to extend protected area coverage for threatened tree species, ensure all at-risk trees where possible are conserved in botanic gardens and seed banks and increase public and corporate funding for the issue.

“This report is a wake-up call to everyone around the world that trees need help," said BGCI secretary-general Paul Smith.

“Every tree species matters – to the millions of other species that depend on trees, and to people all over the world.

“For the first time, thanks to the information provided by the state of the world’s trees report, we can pinpoint exactly which tree species need our help, so policymakers and conservation experts can deploy the resources and expertise needed to prevent future extinctions.”

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