A seed source trial established by Woodland Heritage, Heart of England Forest, Fontmell Hill Estate, Sotterley Estate and a forestry advisor aims to make a strong case for the wild service tree, and to consider more options than just UK-sourced seed.

Wild service tree is widely recognised and valued for its natural beauty and can achieve prices into thousands of euros per log when of veneer quality. There are also fairly few recognised pests and diseases affecting this species, which may do well with a warming climate.

Following a visit to Germany and France in spring 2017 to see the finest specimens in Europe and to learn more from the Continent’s most eminent growers, it was resolved in summer 2018 by the three landowners that a seed source trial be established at their sites in lowland England, spread widely between Suffolk, Warwickshire and Dorset. To give the trial its best possible start, the UK’s foremost tree seed merchant, Forestart, agreed to clean, stratify and propagate to sapling stage the seed sources to be tested.

In autumn 2018, seed was collected from three sites in England (Herefordshire, Lincolnshire and the trial site in Warwickshire), four in France, one in Germany and one in Italy, with the intention of establishing which might be the best seed source for future UK growers of wild service tree.

The three trial sites (all former arable or pasture) were prepared this autumn, with planting taking place in November or December across uniformly agreed one-hectare plots. At each Trial site 5,015 saplings have been planted, including 576 wild service trees, 64 of each of the nine different seed sources. The experimental design incorporates four replicates per site with the companion trees planted being pedunculate oak, hornbeam, field maple and hazel.

The design and the protocol for the trial have been created by Christopher Guest, an experienced forest manager with particular knowledge of wild service tree, in association with recognised European expert, Jens-Peter Skovsgaard. Christopher will also write all reports and take annual measurements of survival, height and diameter for the first phase of the trial to spring 2023.

As well as donating the plot given over to the trial, each landowner is responsible for establishing and maintaining their site. In addition, a grant of £9,960 has been secured from the Scottish Forestry Trust, and Woodland Heritage has pledged £2,600.