FORESTRY and Land Scotland has announced that field trials of a new seed propagation and planting system have proved to be a 'huge success' – achieving an almost 2000 per cent increase in per person productivity compared with conventional methods.

The trials, at the FLS Newton Nursery near Elgin, featured TreeTape, a system modified from a vegetable growing technology by Michael Ashby (director of Cumbria Tree Growers) and Brian Fraser (director of Oakover Nurseries).

The system is a direct response to a CivTech challenge that FLS sponsored in 2019, with part funding from the Can-Do Innovation Challenge Fund.

Josh Roberts, FLS innovation Manager, said: “The majority of trees that foresters plant are actually first grown in dedicated forest nurseries. Here, seed of known origin is germinated and grown to a suitable size before being taken to be planted at a future forest site.

"While in the nursery, one of the most labour-intensive jobs involves carefully uprooting the tiny seedlings after their first year and then replanting them at the right spacing for another years’ growth.

"The existing system used for that job by Forestry and Land Scotland allows nursery staff to plant up to 60,000 seedlings in one day. The TreeTape system however has demonstrated during trials that it can plant 1 million trees in the same time and with fewer operators.

"What would have taken us weeks, with several teams on the go, was achieved in just four days.”

These efficiency gains are not the only major advantage of the new system, FLS said. The system works by sowing tree seed into a continuous, biodegradable, paper ribbon of compost filled pockets.

Once sown, this ribbon of pockets is then placed in a glasshouse, providing the young trees with optimum growing conditions.

Moving the germination inside means there is significant scope to increase the proportion of seeds that germinate, meaning more trees can be grown from the same quantity of seed.

Josh added: “Scattering seeds in the field results in about half of them germinating. With this trial we’ve already got that up to 79 per cent. Over the next few years, we think that careful experimentation and care can get us up past 90 per cent.

“We’ll obviously be keeping a very close eye on these recently planted seedlings to see how they develop over the next 12 months, but we are confident that we are in the process of revolutionising the way that forestry trees are produced.

“This technology will certainly help FLS to make a big contribution to Scotland’s future climate emergency effort, but it’s also a technology that could deliver benefits to forestry around the world.”

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