Britain’s forests of the future to be filled with foreign species in attempt to address climate change

Britain’s forests of the future will be full of exotic trees in a bid to beat climate change and avoid pests, the chief executive of the Forestry Commission has said.

As well as protecting Britain’s native trees including oak and pine, timber from as far-flung areas as Asia and Latin America will be planted to save our forests.

To demonstrate what is needed in order to save our greenery, the Forestry Commission has sponsored the Resilience Garden at Chelsea Flower Show, which shows British meadow flowers planted at the bases of trees from warmer climes.

Ian Gambles, the chief executive of the department, told The Telegraph: “You can’t know what pests might thrive in 30 years’ time in this country so we need to start planting diverse forests. Being a native plant is no protection against pests. In 2080, the climate in England will be more like the temperature in Italy.

“Therefore, seeds from Mediterranean may produce saplings that are better adapted to survive in 50 years.”

He said that there are “many fewer familiar species that will be better adapted to a future climate”.

These include Ginkgo trees from Japan, which are so hardy that they were the only trees to survive Hiroshima, and Latin American species of Monkeypuzzle trees, which can survive hot climates and are hardy against pests.

The planting of trees from further afield has already begun; 25 per cent of trees planted in forests by the commission are currently non-familiar species.

Mr Gambles explained: “We are currently taking part in ‘underplanting’ trials in order to protect our forests. For example, in East Anglia, Thetford Forest is mostly Corsican pine, chosen because it is ideal for the soil type in that area.

“However, ten years ago it got needle blight, which stops it growing. We are leaving trees there but thinning it out and planting different species based on the projection of climate change, so trialing trees such as silver fir, douglas fir and red fir.”

Our forests are already suffering due to hot weather. He said: “We had quite a severe drought last year, we lost a lot of seedling stock. There are areas of our forests that we weren’t able to plant last year as we didn’t have the stock.”

Lord Gardiner, the head of biosecurity at Defra told The Telegraph: “This garden is so thought provoking, we need to hone diversity in our gardens and forests, not only because of pests and diseases but from a climate change perspective.

“What this garden demonstrates is we can have beautiful new trees to add to the tree scape to combat climate change. We need to be much more ambitious because of carbon capture and because trees keep streets cool.”

However, this new planting scheme does not mean the end of our native trees. Henry Studholme, the chairman of the Forestry Commission, added: “Our native trees are really precious, we need to do whatever we can to protect them, but planting new forests we need to think about what we are planting.

“Along with our native trees, we need to plant new species, and in some cases faster-growing trees, in order to combat climate change.”