Gin-lovers are toasting a drinks firm after it was awarded a grant to help save the juniper plant.

Juniper, one of Britain’s oldest plants, is the key ingredient to one of the nation’s favourite drinks – gin and tonic.

However the gin-giving plant faces extinction in Sussex due to excessive rabbit grazing and a lack of habitat – leaving just a handful of them left in our countryside.

It’s also under threat from the new and deadly Phytophthora austrocedrae disease, which infects the plant through its roots and causes foliage reduction and death.

To help save the tiny surviving population of juniper plants on Steyning Coombe, drinks manufacturer No.3 London Dry Gin has given a £1,000 grant to Steyning Downland Scheme – a charity which cares for the plants at the site near Lancing.

The charity is working with international organisation Plantlife to help protect the plants and will use the cash to build protective fencing around the remaining few in the county.

Tim Wilkins, species recovery coordinator at Plantlife, said: “Juniper has been steadily declining over the last few decades and without action now, it actually faces extinction across West Sussex and much of lowland England within 50 years.

“Such a calamity would represent more than the loss of a single plant type – it supports more than 40 species of insect and fungus that cannot survive without it.

“Plantlife has launched various juniper conservation projects across the UK but, especially with this new disease threat, we’re absolutely thrilled that No.3 is bolstering our efforts in these ways.”

It is thought the remaining plants near Lancing are the only of their kind in the whole of West and East Sussex.

The Sussex Wildlife Trust said the last record it held of a juniper plant in East Sussex dated back to a single plant in Hadlow Down, near Uckfield, in 2008, and in Ringmer in 2001.

A spokeswoman said: “They were single plants which were probably planted so they wouldn’t have been able to breed.”

Despite this, No.3 London Dry Gin hopes its cash injection will preserve juniper’s future in West Sussex.

Mike Mackenzie, of No.3, said: “Juniper is very much at the heart of No.3, so it’s appropriate that we support Plantlife’s activities in these ways.

"Their work in this area of conservation is second to none and we’re hopeful of healthy days ahead for West Sussex’s juniper.”