SUPERIOR quality oak seed is now available in the UK – in news foresters believe could secure the species' future in the British forestry industry. 

The Future Trees Trust (FTT) says its first seeds in the Tested category of Forest Reproductive Material (FRM) – the highest designation – will allow better growth and shorter rotations, coupled with other quality timber traits such as lighter branching and straighter stems. 

As the only UK charity dedicated to improving broadleaved trees, FTT has been working since the 1990s to improve the quality of home-grown oak timber and to create seed orchards which will produce acorns that fall into this highest category of FRM. This week's news is the culmination of 25 years of research. 

Dr Jo Clark, head of research at Future Trees Trust, said: “It’s really exciting to see the first tested FRM for a broadleaved species, following many years of hard work and research." 

Oak is the largest, longest-lived and most important British timber tree. However, the time between seed sowing and final harvest takes a long time which can result in high UK imports of oak. 

The research first began during the 1990s, when FTT selected pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) and sessile oak (Quercus petraea) ‘plus trees’ based on their timber characteristics. Eight progeny trials were established in 2003 to assess growth rates and timber traits.

After 18 years of assessments two trial sites, Sotterley Estate in Suffolk, and Little Wittenham in Oxfordshire, have been rogued to a single species, forming the first Tested seed orchards for oak in the UK, one for Quercus robur and one for Q. petraea. 

The orchards have now been placed on the FRM register and will significantly contribute to the maintenance and restoration of resilient, healthy oak across the UK. 

Dr Clark added: "The amount of tested seed coming from these orchards will be small over the next few years as crowns develop after the rogueing but this will increase as the trees grow and develop.

"A huge thank you to all the landowners who have hosted the trials, and everyone involved in creating the orchards to finally bring tested oak seed to the forestry industry. 

"Oak represents the bulk of UK hardwood imports mainly sourced from Europe and the US. This step forward in research will allow UK forestry to secure a future for oak hardwoods in the UK, by sustainably producing homegrown oak timber, reducing reliance on imports."