Thousands of Scots pines at King’s Forest near Bury St Edmunds are being used by Forestry England to help meet tree planting targets.
The stands of 13-year-old trees cover 10ha – and have been grown from original orchard seed identified from planting records. Trees are thinned and topped to produce higher numbers of cones and make it easier to collect the cones from ground level.
Collected seeds will supplement those from Forestry England’s nine seed orchards throughout England which contain Scots pine, Sitka spruce and Lodgepole pine trees, specially bred for their timber characteristics and strong growth features.
This is the first time a conifer stand has been converted in this way for many decades as the practice fell out of use when seed orchards were planted in the 1980s.
Demand for trees
Forestry England stores about three years worth of seed at its seed processing facility at Alice Holt in Surrey. This ensures a secure stock of trees is available for planting across the nation’s forests.
Annual demand for trees is at 6.5m and Forestry England grows 75% of the trees needed to meet this demand, with remaining trees, particularly broadleaved varieties, sourced externally.
As ambitious new tree planting initiatives are announced, including the recent Forestry England Woodland Partnership leasehold opportunity for landowners, the organisation is focusing on ensuring a resilient seed supply for all species for the years ahead.
Forestry England seed resource manager Nicola Rivett said: “This is an important part of our plans to ensure we invest in new, secure seed resources to reduce imports, provide a greater variety of seed for species and replace some of our ageing seed orchards.
“With each Scots pine cone producing 20 seeds and a sack of orchard-origin cones giving up to 500g of seed, these stands will provide future high-quality trees and timber, well adapted to changing climate conditions for our forests.”
As well as converting the Kings Forest stands, Forestry England is identifying other orchard-origin stands of Scots pine, Sitka spruce, and Douglas fir. It is also looking for stands of oak, birch, and other broadleaved species.
Identifyingspecies with appropriate origins to manage as seed stands instead of harvesting for timber will help to ensure a home-grown supply of even more varieties for future forests and woodlands to flourish.
In 2019/20, a bumper season for seed harvesting, Forestry England collected three thousand sacks of Sitka spruce and Scots pine cones which contained around one thousand kilogrammes of seed – a potential 200m trees.