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New app solves problem of identifying young trees and shrubs

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European silver fir seedling app screenshot

A new app-based field guide from the Forestry Commission has been launched to help identify almost 100 tree and shrub seedlings under one year old that are commonly found in British woods and forests.

Ecologists, woodland managers, foresters, surveyors and conservationists often want to identify young trees and shrubs that have established themselves naturally to help them plan for the future and decide what to keep and what to remove. However, plants under one year old are notoriously difficult to identify even for those with long experience working in the field.

Selecting naturally established seedlings has always been a part of traditional native woodland management and is becoming more common as continuous cover forestry (CCF) expands. CCF does not use clear-felling and replanting. Knowing what is growing where sooner rather than later helps people take decisions on the spot rather than waiting until plants have matured a little.

Speaking from the APF, forestry’s biggest biannual show Forest Research’s Matt Parratt said:

“Most professionals and experienced amateurs can readily identify trees and shrubs after the plants are just a year or two old. But young seedlings often look significantly different to older plants and this can get in the way of accurately recording what is growing where.

“The app allows people to quickly and accurately identify self-set trees and shrubs regardless of their age. They can also record field notes and locations using GPS without a mobile signal. This is always going to be more efficient and helpful than revisiting a site.

“We tested the app on experienced colleagues using seedling pictures of rowan and common lime – both trees which are readily identifiable when older. A number of them were unable to correctly identify either one, and were surprised once the app revealed what they were.”

The app includes high-resolution images of leaves and other seedling features that can be used for identification. Instead of flipping through a field guide it uses dynamic filtering to allow users to identify seedlings based upon a number of key characteristics including leaf shapes and stem hairs. It supports species searches and includes listings by common and scientific names.

The field guide app has been developed by the Forestry Commission from content supplied by Forest Research. It costs £1.49 and is available from iTunes Store and Google Play.


Notes to Editor

  1. Forestry Commission

    Forestry is a devolved matter. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has responsibility for forestry in England as well as certain activities such as international affairs and plant health which remain reserved by Westminster.

    Scottish Ministers have responsibility for forestry in Scotland.Forestry Commission England and Forestry Commission Scotland report directly to their appropriate Minister, advising on policy and its implementation.

  2. Forest Research is one of the world’s leading centres of research into woodlands and forestry. They provide research services relevant to UK and international forestry interests and inform and support forestry’s contribution to UK government policies. It provides the evidence base for UK forestry practices and to support innovation.

  3. Media Contact: Stuart Burgess, 0300 067 4073,