Founded in 1991 at the Department of Plant Sciences of the University of Oxford, the British and Irish Hardwoods Trust (BIHIP) became a voluntary collaboration of many of Britain and Ireland's foremost tree scientists and practitioners from all sectors of forestry.
Now, after 25 years and re-branded as Future Trees Trust we have trial sites across Great Britain and Ireland where we test offspring (either seeds or cuttings) from carefully selected superior parent trees of seven species. Our researchers monitor their development over many years. By careful selection and rigorous testing, they ensure that only the best progeny or cuttings produce seeds that we know will grow into excellent broadleaved trees that will contain sufficient diversity to be resilient to climate change.
But it's not just about the science. We also lobby the British and Irish forestry industries and hope to create a fundamental culture change within that sector towards planting of improved trees. Already, our lobbying has resulted in the Forestry Commission in England recognising the need to change their seed-sourcing regulations to increase genetic variation, based on the work that our scientists performed.
Our members generally volunteer their time to support our work free of charge. We have only one full-time member of staff and a part-time Research Coordinator, so our overheads are minimal but our research costs money. The document Costs of establishing seed orchards will provide you with an idea of the costs of creating one of around 30 test orchards we need to create to complete our work.
To realize the economic, social and environmental benefits of broadleaved woodland by ensuring that by 2050 all broadleaved trees in Great Britain and Ireland are grown from seed that has been improved using conventional selection and breeding to a "tested" or "qualified" level according to EU regulations. We aim to improve tree quality and hence increase recoverable volumes of timber by around 15% over current levels of production. As an interim step from which smaller gains are achievable, by 2020, to ensure that all trees are grown from "selected" seed.
Peter Savill presents a brief history of our forests from 10,000 BC to the present day and highlights the urgent need for tree breeding.
Dr Peter Savill of FTT says...
One of the most important aspects of Future Trees Trust's work is the introduction of more genetic diversity into the seven species we work with. This should have the effect of producing trees that are far more resilient to predicted climate change than existing populations besides being more valuable. Unless woodlands can yield an economic return to their owners, they will be neglected and most of the many benefits they can confer upon society will be lost.