There are approximately 80,000 ha of sycamore in Britain and Ireland. Most of this is in Britain where there are 67,000 ha of woodland in which sycamore is the dominant species. This comprises 49,000 ha in England, 11,000 ha in Scotland and 7,000 ha in Wales. The Irish resource amounts to approximately 12,000 ha.
Sycamore grows on a wide range of sites and has similar ecological requirements to ash, but is more frost hardy and less demanding.
This naturalized exotic species has considerable economic potential, as it is one of the fastest growing broadleaves in the UK and Ireland. It also produces a desirable white-colored timber with little discernible figure or grain. In addition some individual trees exhibit wavy grain timber, which is prized for making musical instruments and for producing veneer. This is highly valued, but whether this characteristic is determined by the tree's genetic composition or by environmental factors or both is not known.
The time of introduction of sycamore to Britain and Ireland is uncertain. It is thought to have been introduced to Britain some time between the Roman occupation and 1550, although it has become established strongly only over the last 200 years. Large specimens were recorded as being present in Ireland in the late 18th century and are likely to have been planted in the late 17th century.
Sycamore has acquired a reputation for being an invasive species. It thrives best however when there is disturbance. Evidence suggests that it cannot dominate woodlands for long periods as it has difficulty regenerating under its own canopy.
Sycamore also has an important ecological role within the UK. It supports huge numbers of aphids which provide an important food supply for organisms as varied as birds and fish. It is also important in supporting a wide range of lichen species, In addition it is a soil improving species suited to soil remediation.
The Sycamore Group held its inaugural meeting in Edinburgh in 2003 its purpose being to increase the availability of quality genetic material for those wanting to plant sycamore. At this meeting the Sycamore Group’s strategy was devised.