"Libdems will plant a tree for every baby born" is a pretty cheesy headline but it is a good idea. As an extension of The Forestry Commission's Big Tree Plant, it seeks to both help to protect the natural environment and foster community feeling; getting people involved and improving the neighbour. Under the Big Tree Plant, 800,000 trees have already been planted. The Libdem plan will see that extended to a further 750,000 trees every year for England and Wales.
Following some of the disastrous policies of the 1970s and 80s, in which many square miles of the country were put under a monoculture of non-native spruces, it is good to see a pledge to not only to manage and protect existing woodland more effectively, but to democratise the scheme and bring the benefits as close to people as possible.
If one is hoping to bring maximum benefit to wildlife, it is better to plant native species such as (but by no means limited to) oak, ash, chestnut, sycamore, bird cherry, aspen, birch and rowan. It is always good to be aware of the ultimate size an individual specimen is expected to grow: aspen for example can reach heights of over 20m.
If a community is intending to recreate a natural woodland, a mix of trees and shrubs will be necessary, planted in the knowledge that as the decades go by, the larger tree specimens will eventually overshadow and kill off smaller species. This is all part of the natural progression, with four main woodland cycle being recognised - pioneer plants, scrub and shrubs, small trees and finally mature woodland consisting of the biggest species.
The Royal Horticultural Society has a very useful page, giving a list of native species of trees and shrubs, along with a size guide.
When it comes to forestry, a very long term vision is needed: something we are not encouraged to think about in our day-to-day lives. I am reminded of the story of an Oxford college who, some decades back, was facing a crisis. The oak beams that supported the roof of the Great Hall had perished, reaching the end of their useful lives. Meeting after meeting was held and alternatives sought, but no solution could be found by the dons. Eventually the college steward was invited to yet another meeting and was finally asked his opinion.
"I wondered when you would get around to asking me," said the steward. "You know that line of oaks at the college entrance? They were planted in the same year construction of the Great Hall started over 500 years ago, so when these beams wore out, their replacements would be ready."
Now that is vision.