Genetic diversity and the resilience of UK treescapes

Photo by Jonny Gios on Unsplash

11:00am, 5 December 2023

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Are UK treescapes capable of adapting fast enough to a changing climate, or should we be sourcing planting stock from southerly locations in mainland Europe, where current climates match conditions predicted for sites in GB in the future? This question has generated much confusion and debate in recent years, with strong implications for the resilience of our forests and the benefits they provide.

Drawing from research conducted by newLEAF, Joan Cottrell will summarise evidence of the adaptive capacity of tree populations and the risks, costs and benefits of different provenance choices. David Edwards will then outline historical research into the seed sources of native trees planted in GB over the last 100 years, which indicates that, for some species, we’ve been sourcing much of our seed from southerly locations for decades. How should the sector respond to these findings? Stephen Cavers, newLEAF Principal Investigator, will offer some concluding remarks, and propose that we reframe the debate from a narrow focus on provenance choice to encompass a broader understanding of how tree populations work, and the benefits of working with nature to allow our woods themselves to respond in the most appropriate way to optimise their survival.


Dr Joan Cottrell has worked for Forest Research for over 25 years where she leads the Forest Genetics science group. She uses applied molecular techniques to inform forestry related questions, from assessing genetic diversity of trees and forest dwelling species to the application of metabarcoding approaches to assess arthropod biodiversity. She has been funded by grants from the EU, DEFRA, NERC and the Scottish Plant Health Centre and has >100 publications. Her work has been recognised by awards for best paper in Forestry and Scottish Forestry. She is a member of the DEFRA DNA Centre of Excellence and serves as one of the GB representatives for the EUFORGEN network.

Dr David Edwards is the Research Impact Coordinator at Forest Research, and an environmental social scientist with 30 years’ experience of research and consultancy in UK and internationally. Working in the Chief Scientist’s Office, David supports dialogue and collaboration with FR’s customers and stakeholders to increase the impact of its research, evidence, and advice. Previously, David was a member of FR’s Senior Management Team leading five Science Groups. As a Senior Social Scientist, he led teams on several EU projects, and published widely on the interfaces between science, policy and practice, social and cultural values, and environmental arts research.

Dr Stephen Cavers is the Principal Investigator for the newLEAF project. He leads the research group ‘Ecology, Evolution and Environmental Change’ at the UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, studying plant population genetics and evolution. He has >25 years’ experience of studying genetic diversity, population structure and adaptive variation in tree species worldwide. He focuses on conserving and making use of tree genetic diversity for the benefit of people. He has a strong international research profile and collaborates widely with partners across Europe and in Africa and Latin America to undertake research on temperate and tropical species across their ranges.

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