Selection and testing of conifers


Successful tree improvement depends on the amount of heritable variation that exists within a species. The bulk of variation is exhibited at two levels - origin and within origin. This programme concerns the within origin variation of coniferous species and has been active since the late 1950s when work concentrated mainly on Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris). Since then attention has switched to a small number of species of which Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) is the most important.

There are currently breeding programmes for five coniferous species:

In the past there has also been limited work on Lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta).

Research objective

To improve the growth rate, quality and economic return of commercially planted coniferous species through selection and breeding.

Funders and partners

Forestry Commission logo
This research is funded by the Forestry Commission Tree Breeding for the Future programme and receives guidence from the Improving Conifer Timber Quality Steering Group.

European Flag
European contracts have included:

  • FAIR CT 95-0909:
    Towards a sustainable productive Douglas-fir forest of high quality raw material in Europe (EUDIREC)

    This ended in April 2000. Progeny test data collected under this contract assisted in the development of the Douglas fir breeding programme.
  • FAIR 5-CT 98-3354:
    Towards a European Larch wood chain

    This is now coming towards the end of its second year. Data is being collected in existing Hybrid larch progeny tests under this project allowing the further development of the JL and EL breeding populations. Field trials are also being established to allow the comparison of various improved seed lots collected from around Europe.

Forestry Commission policy

The Forestry Commission subscribes on behalf of the United Kingdom to EUFORGEN, the European Forest Genetic Resources Programme set up in response to the Strasbourg Resolution S2.

This programme remains one of the core elements of the ‘economic’ pillar contributing to sustainable forest management as describe in the UK Forestry Standard (2004).  The objective of economic and efficient timber production, of which this programme is key, remains an important element of the Forestry Strategies of England, Scotland and Wales. 


This programme is continuous

Annual Summary of Research (2003-4)

Current activities:

  • The last of the first round of progeny tests designed to estimate parental breeding values for outstanding species are now being measured. Breeding and production populations will soon be finalised for the Larches, Douglas fir and Sitka spruce of Washington origin.
  • Huge amounts of data have been collected over the years regarding the genetic value of parental trees. Efforts are being made to ensure these data are easily available through seed, pollen, family mixture and breeding population databases. Systems of Best Linear Unbiased Predictor (BLUP) analysis are currently being put into place to help get maximum genetic information from field collected data.
  • Marker Aided Selection (MAS) is identifying molecular markers (bands on a gel) associated with extremes of variation e.g. very high wood density, very good stem form, very good frost resistance. If successful, breeders could dispense with expensive field trials and extra gain will get out to the forest managers quicker than by traditional means. Large scale field trials are planned for establishment over three sites in spring 2005.


Genetic testing

Steve Lee

Marker Aided Selection

Joan Cottrell

What's of interest

Vegetative propagation and deployment of varieties (a.k.a. clonal forestry) - the scope for Europe

Meeting held in Liverpool, England under the auspices of EU 6th Framework Programme ' TreeBreedEx'.
(April 2009)

An in depth look at clonal forestry operations taking place today and asking the question 'When will it become common place in Europe?' Abstract and presentations by tree breeders and social foresters.

Clonal forestry -
Who are you kidding?

Meeting of the Nordic Group for the Management of Genetic Resources of Trees
(Sept 2002)

Topics included:

  • State of clonal forestry, techniques and production;
  • Benefits of clonal forestry;
  • Commercialisation and public acceptance.

Related pages

Useful sites