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The provenance of tree seed or stock refers to its geographical origins. Choosing the appropriate tree species and provenance for the site characteristics and local climate is a key management decision.

However, provenance choice for a changing climate is complex, uncertain and the approach is likely to be different for sites where the main objective is timber production compared to those with primarily conservation objectives.

Influencing factors for provenance choice

It is important to note that while some trials and demonstrations have been started there is insufficient long-term evidence and there is no certainty about provenance choice. Climate change research is ongoing and therefore we recommend you regularly check official advice from Forest Research and other official research bodies.

Provenance choice will also be influenced by site objectives as highlighted below:

Timber production

The UKFS guidelines on forests and climate change advise the consideration of a wider range of tree species than has been typical of past planting and consider the use of planting material from more southerly origins. This use of planting material from more southerly origins is a type of ‘assisted migration’, which can involve both native and non-native species.

Habitats and conservation

The UKFS guidelines on forests and biodiversity state that: ‘when planting native species and native woodlands, it is generally best to use well-adapted local or regional origins from similar elevations’. Assisted migration of provenances may not be suitable.

Guidance notes

  • The extent and timing of change in climate conditions varies across the UK, so the balance between any risks in introduced planting material and benefits in being better suited to future climates varies, e.g. in southern and eastern England choosing planting material for anticipated increased soil moisture constraints is likely to be important, while in Scotland ensuring material has appropriate bud set and frost tolerance may be the key factor.
  • Consider collecting and planting locally produced seed from existing plantations to increase local adaptation to a site.
  • Where timber is the main objective, seed should be sourced from breeding programmes, and if this is not available, from the Forest Reproductive Materials (FRM) ‘Selected’ category of stands.
  • Where planting exotic species, ideally use stock which has undergone provenance testing and, subsequently, choose UK sources of seed to encourage the development of genotypes adapted to UK conditions.

For further advice see the UKFS Practice Guide ‘Adapting forest and woodland management to the changing climate’.

Download the UKFS Adaptation Practice Guide

Printed copies are available to purchase from Forest Research.

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Reducing climate change risks

The following risks may be reduced if the adaptation measure is applied appropriately:

Measure likely to reduce risk if applied appropriately
Measure may reduce risk but about which less is known
Measure unlikely to reduce, and may exacerbate, risk
Lack of information or unknown

Case study

This case study of a family estate in Sussex includes an example of assisted migration of native species in 23 hectare Gipps Wood.

Tools to assist decision making

To help select the right species for the right site, the Forest Research tree species database contain information on a wide range of trees including provenance, site requirements and risks of pests and pathogens.

Further resources

Genetic considerations for provenance choice of native trees under climate change in England – Publication
Genetic considerations for provenance choice of native trees under climate change in England – Policy Advice Note