Woodlands and broadleaved trees were once integral to the landscapes of Britain and Ireland and a natural and rich resource on which our culture, economy, health and biodiversity depended. Over the last 200 years, the extent of broadleaved woodland and the hardwood timber it produces has fallen dramatically. Today, we import 95% of all the hardwood timber we use.
The reasons for this decline are many and varied including over-extraction of the best trees, under-management of the remaining woodlands, the wide availability of foreign imports, a focus on more rapidly growing conifer species and pressure for land to grow food.
Yet people value trees and woodlands. More people are now engaging in conversations about woodlands, many of whom had not done so previously. Broadleaved trees obviously have a very special place in our national psyche, as they are an important part of our countryside and urban landscapes. Close your eyes and think of the countryside and a broadleaved tree will be part of that image. An ideal view from an office window will include a broadleaved tree and if you take a stroll in the park, where do people shelter on rainy or hot days?
But broadleaved trees are very much more than just beautiful things. They are the source material on which entire industries depend, a living for many, ecosystems that will be fundamental to our future health, a means of storing vast quantities of carbon as well as supporting countless species of woodland flora and fauna.
As new tree pests arrive in our shores there is an increased public awareness in the importance of our native trees. Public money has been invested in new action plans and research to combat these potentially damaging problems. The subject of woodlands and how to ensure their future is highly relevant. More recently, the Grown in Britain campaign shows that there is a growing demand and enthusiasm for ensuring we do all we can to become self-sufficient in timber and to restore our woodland culture, which we heartily applaud.
We believe that tree improvement is fundamental to ensuring the future of our broadleaved woodlands. Through tree improvement, the woodlands of Britain and Ireland can support our economic growth, contribute more to society and, with selective breeding and long-term management, be more resilient to changes in our climate and new pests and diseases.
Just as the breeding of many animals and crops harnesses natural population diversity to enhance desirable traits, the same can be done with trees. But it takes a lot longer to achieve results and we need to act now if we want future tree populations to be productive, healthy and adaptable.
Producing more of our own hardwood timber can only help deliver our nations’ growth agendas and strengthen rural economies, while delivering many other tangible benefits.
Earth Trust is working with the Future Trees Trust and Forest Research on a Strategy for Tree Improvement in Great Britain and Ireland - download the full document here.
Photos courtesy of Jenny Carter and Ben Carpenter