Oak is the largest and one of the longest-living and most iconic native trees in Britain and Ireland. Two species exist: pedunculate and sessile oak. Both are renowned not only for their valuable timber but because they grow to a great size and age and form a crucial and unique feature in our landscape. As part of our flora, oak provides important wildlife habitats.
Breeding quality oak for the future
The forester's goal of achieving better financial returns over shorter rotations has particular appeal for growers of oak where the time between seed sowing and final harvest makes planting an act of faith. Although silviculture plays an important role, improving the genetic quality of the trees also gives substantial benefits for the owner, the countryside and the general public.
The FTT's Oak Group was formed to initiate and coordinate research into the improvement of oak. It aims to provide improved planting stock to ensure the continuation of our quality oak trees in the future and to sustain the countryside and the rural economy. This improvement is being achieved through a selective breeding programme which has a dual approach:
1. Seed stands: Improvement of oak is an exceptionally long-term task and hence the immediate approach is to identify the best and most productive stands and designate and manage them as seed stands. These would then be thinned heavily and frequently to promote seed production. Other methods, such as drought stressing for increasing seed production will also be tested. In this way improved seed for the short and medium terms can be provided.
2. Development of seed orchards: In the longer term the group are establishing a series of seed orchards, the first of which were planted on eight sites throughout Britain and Ireland in 2003.These are being developed following conventional tree breeding processes. Initially, 250 plus trees of oak were selected in Britain, Ireland and parts of north Western Europe on the basis of their exceptional phenotypic characteristics: straight stem, light branching and superior growth. Out of these the best 150 were selected for their timber characteristics. Their progeny form the basis of the 2003 seedling seed orchards. They are also providing material for establishing clonal seed orchards.
Based on these approaches, the FTT's Oak Group is actively pursuing the improvement of British and Irish oak forests.