Tree species and provenance

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Why choosing the correct tree species is important

The correct choice of a tree species in relation to site characteristics and local climate is an essential prerequisite for successful and sustainable forest management.

For example, planting a species like poplar on a dry site is likely to result in failure since this tree requires access to soil moisture for satisfactory growth. Similarly, planting species from warmer climates on colder sites in upland Britain can result in serious risk of death and dieback in harsh winters.

Previous generations of foresters and land owners had good access to silvicultural textbooks which described the characteristics of different species, often complemented by local trials which showed the comparative performance of different species in their region. However, such textbooks are now difficult to find, and the standardisation of species choice since the mid 1970s has led to a concentration upon a limited number of species in British forestry such as Sitka spruce, Scots and Corsican pines, various larches, Douglas fir, sessile and pedunculate oaks, beech, and silver birch.

Why considering a wider portfolio of species is important

The last decade has seen a disturbing increase in the number of pests and diseases that are affecting our trees and forests. These include the damages caused by red band needle blight to Corsican and lodgepole pines, the high mortality caused by Phytopthora ramorum on Japanese larch, and by bleeding canker to horse chestnut.

The impact of climate change is also expected to have a serious impact on our forests over this century particularly in more southern and eastern parts of the country where warmer summers may lead to greater risk of drought stress. On the other hand, a warming climate may make it easier to grow species that were previously though to be too ‘tender’ for sites in southern and western Britain.

The need to consider a wider portfolio of species is a prudent component of a management strategy that aspires to adapt our forests and woodlands to projected climate change. This will also help inform the use of alternative species if a favoured one should prove particularly vulnerable to a pest or disease, as was the case with lodgepole pine in north Scotland in the 1980s.

Information provided

For each species:

  • Their natural distribution
  • A summary our knowledge of their site and climatic preferences and other silvicultural characteristics
  • Brief information on suitable seed origins and provenances*.

* Correct choice of seed source will be an important part of adaptation to climate change given that trees planted in this decade may well experience the climate of latitudes two-three degrees further south by the time they reach maturity.

There is also a list of more detailed references and documents that may be helpful.

Seeing examples of different species

Places where you can see examples of these different species include Forestry Commission arboreta and forest gardens at Bedgebury, Brechfa, the Forest of Dean, Kilmun, Lynford, the New Forest and Westonbirt.

Silvifuture is a network established to promote and share knowledge about novel forest species across Britain.

Future updates to these pages

We plan to update these pages at regular intervals and hope to include additional features over the next months.

We plan to provide diagrams based on the Ecological Site Classification which indicate the range of soil moisture and nutrient regimes to which a species is best suited plus information on its sensitivity to wind exposure.

Other aspects that will be included are more detailed provenance recommendations, maps of seed zones for different species, and possibly locations of exemplar stands where a range of species can be compared.


For further information or particular queries please contact one of us at the addresses below: