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This project aims to improve the genetic quality of planting stock for key commercial coniferous species

Research objectives

  • To improve the economic return of key coniferous species by ensuring they are well adapted; grow faster and straighter than unimproved stock, and have better internal wood qualities which are more able to satisfy the construction timber market.
  • To demonstrate the value, and promote the planting of improved stock within the forestry sector
  • To achieve these objectives in the most cost- and time-effective manner using traditional and new technologies as appropriate.
  • To deliver to industry advice on the best planting as quickly as possible.

Results so far

  • The Sitka spruce programme is well advanced with predicted gains of around 25% end of rotation volume, and 20% extra top-quality green logs.
  • Scots pine gains are around 10% for volume and between 5 and 10% for stem quality.
  • Nearly all Sitka spruce and plantation Scots Pine established since 2010 has all been of improved stock.
  • Breeding of Hybrid Larch (cross between European and Japanese larch) and Corsican pine has completed one generation. Material selected for growth rate and stem straightness have been archived.
  • Best advice on well adapted origins of conifers is available for most species planted in Britain.
  • New advances in bio-technology (Marker Aided Selection) has shown associations between DNA-markers identified in the laboratory and the performance of trees observed in the forest.
  • Limited success with tissue culture of Sitka spruce embryos shows the potential for generating vast copies of highly-selected trees if required.
  • Selection criteria are moving away from volume towards quality traits such as wood stiffness, and the early and non-destructive assessments of such traits


  • Programme was started in the late 1950s
  • Collections of improved material now exist for SS, EL & JL, SP and CP.
  • The Conifer Breeding Co-operative now exists to maximise the quality of growing stock to industry and take forward the breeding programme for that Sitka spruce, with gradual expansion into other conifer species.

Related Products/Services

The main output of this Programme is populations of improved individuals according to the traits under selection.

The forest industry has access to these improved individuals

Funders and partners

Forestry Commission policy

Forest policy documents for Scotland, England and Wales all include the need for truly sustainable production of quality timber to satisfy their existing and expanding timber-utilisation markets. This is particularly so in Scotland where most conifers are planted, and timber production is a ‘Key Theme’ of the Scottish Forestry Strategy. In all countries the additional productivity offered by improved planting stock enables more land to be given over to activities satisfying more diverse objectives whilst still meeting previous market requirements. Further, the skills being developed into DNA-technologies can be adapted to help select trees resistant to future-disease in a faster, more efficient manner.