Why birch is important
Often planted in native woodland regeneration schemes, the importance of silver birch as a timber species is being increasingly recognised because: a) it is suitable for medium rotation coppice (15 – 20 years), b) it is one of few fast-growing broadleaves able to grow on certain Scottish sites, c) it is capable of rapid natural regeneration, and d) of the drive to diversify forests in the face of climate change and novel pests and diseases.
Birch produces a fine-textured and uniform timber that is similar in strength to oak but tougher and stiffer. It is versatile, easily worked and often used for joinery, flooring and to make handles, toys and bowls. The bark is excellent tinder and can be used for tanning leather.
Birch trees grafted from plus trees being grown on in a polytunnel in advance of being planted out
Our research with birch
We have been working with silver birch since 1995 and have selected almost 200 plus trees across Scotland and northern England. With grafts of these trees we have planted five seed orchards: three composed of plus trees from southern Scotland and northern England, and two of plus trees from northern Scotland. We are currently collecting seed from silver birch plus trees for large progeny trials that will assess paternal performance. Poorly performing individuals can then be removed from our CSOs to improve the quality of the seed produced.
There is an increasing demand for silver birch from more southerly latitudes and we about to begin selecting plus trees in central and southern England to establish new CSOs in these regions. Downy birch plus tree selection began in 2015 and successfully grafted scion material collected in Scotland will form the first seed orchard providing qualified material for this species. If you know of any high-quality birch stands of either species, we would be very interested to hear from you.