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26 MARCH 2012 NEWS RELEASE No: 15366

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New research to discover forest trees of the future

The Forestry Commission is taking part in a multi-national research project to identify alternative tree species that could be planted in the future to thrive in the type of climate expected over the next century.

Funded by the European Union, the 'REINFFORCE' project is carrying out trials of 30 tree species at 37 locations on Europe's Atlantic seaboard ranging from the Azores in Portugal to the Isle of Mull in Scotland.

There are three trial sites in western Britain including Westonbirt, The National Arboretum in England; Mull; and Crychan, near Llandovery in Wales. Alongside the REINFFORCE trials are two trials in eastern Britain being undertaken by the Forestry Commission's Forest Research agency: one at Swinley Forest in Berkshire, in an area affected by forest fires in May 2011, and the other near Peebles in Scotland.

Forest Research, a world-leading centre of research into trees, forestry and climate change, is working alongside 11 other European partners. They aim to identify species that are likely to be more resilient to pests and diseases and most likely to thrive in the warmer climates predicted as a result of climate change.

The impact of recurrent ice ages has left the British Isles with only a small number of native tree species, most of which are broadleaved. Oak, beech, ash and birch make up much of our native broadleaf forests, and Scots pine, yew and juniper the native conifer forests. Of these, Scots pine is the only native conifer which is used on a wide scale for timber production, so there is a need to identify a wider variety of coniferous species.

For centuries, new tree species have been introduced for a variety of purposes, including timber production, so the UK's portfolio of commercial forestry species has expanded to include Sitka spruce, Douglas fir, larch, and Corsican and lodgepole pine, among others. 

However, the past two decades in particular have seen an increase in the number of tree pests and diseases entering the UK and affecting these tree species. Dothistroma needle blight has caused considerable damage to Corsican and lodegpole pine crops, Phytophthora ramorum has caused significant mortality in larch forests, and bleeding canker has spread widely among horse chestnut or ‘conker’ trees.

The REINFFORCE Project will help to identify alternative tree species that can be planted in Britain in the changing climate and whether and to what extent existing species are at risk of pest and disease attacks. 

Dr Hugh Williams, Head of Operations for Forest Research, said,

“Despite the uncertainties surrounding climate change, it is expected to have a significant impact on our forests over this century. In southern and eastern Britain, hotter, drier summers might lead to greater risk of drought stress. Conversely a warming climate may make it easier to grow species that were previously thought to be too tender for southern and western Britain.”

The 30 tree species to be planted in the research include familiar ones such English oak, Scots pine, silver birch and sweet chestnut, as well as less usual species such as Atlas cedar and Macedonian, Maritime and Monterey pine.

Each of the 37 trial locations will contain the same 30 tree species, each from three seed provenances (sources). The researchers will measure survival, health, height, trunk diameter and form across a wide range of climates and soil types, as well as the ways in which the trees respond to climatic variables such as temperature and water availability. The research will then help forest managers decide which forest trees to grow in the future.

Notes to Editors

  1. REINFFORCE is an acronym for: REsource INFrastructure for monitoring and adapting European Atlantic FORests under Changing climatE (REINFFORCE). REINFFORCE is a 4-year project co-financed by the European Union programme FEDER-INTERREG IV Atlantic. The project corresponds to Priority 2: “Protect, secure and enhance the marine and coastal environment sustainability”.
  2. Its lead partner is the Institut Européen de la Forêt Cultivée (European Institute for Cultivated Forest / IEFC) in France. Other partners include research partners in Spain, France and Portugal. The purpose of the project is to pool the capacity of the 12 institutes to face the trans-national issue of adaptation to climate change impacts on Atlantic forests. The project will set up tools for monitoring climate change and its impact on the Atlantic coast, and test the efficiency of adaptive measures. For more information visit http://www.forestry.gov.uk/fr/INFD-7YTC93
  3. Forest Research is part of the Forestry Commission. It carries out world-class scientific research and technical development relevant to forestry and in support of sustainable forest management for a range of internal and external clients worldwide. See www.forestry.gov.uk/forestresearch.
  4. The Forestry Commission is the government department for foerstry in Great Britain. It works to improve the lives of people through the many benefits that sustainably managed trees, woods and forests can provide. See www.forestry.gov.uk.

MEDIA CONTACT: Jo Spouncer, 01483 326265; M: 07828 762045; jo.spouncer@forestry.gov.uk

e-mail: jo.spouncer@forestry.gsi.gov.uk