Trees have a huge impact on rural and urban landscapes and contribute a vital part of heritage, rural economy and well-being. One of the species with both landscape and commercial value is the oak tree. The Netherlands has a long tradition of breeding oak trees for landscape and commercial purposes, not in the least because dense and strong oak wood was very suitable for the well-known Dutch VOC ships. In this way, the Dutch developed world-class expertise in breeding straight and tall oak trees. One of the world-leading universities in this area is the Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR).
To learn more about the Dutch oak breeding programme, to exchange expertise and to establish collaborative links, the British Embassy’s Science and Innovation team and Future Trees Trust jointly organised a visit to the Netherlands. Future Trees Trust is a UK charity dedicated to breeding broadleaved trees in order to improve their growth rate, to improve their form and to enhance their resilience to climate change. From 13 to 15 May 2013 Future Trees Trust brought over seven tree experts with both scientific and commercial backgrounds. Wageningen University set up a very varied, hands-on and interesting programme for the overseas experts, with visits to selected tree locations spread across the Netherlands. No power points, but visits to various locations reflecting the various stages of oak breeding: roadside plantations, tree nurseries, selected seed stands, seed harvest and inspection locations, seed cultivation of resilient oak trees, and also a seed orchard on reclaimed land. The delegates also met representatives of the local management and businesses, who explained the details of how, for example, a tree nursery was managed and their future ambitions with regards to the cultivation of healthy oak trees.
The visit has been documented in a detailed booklet with technical information about the oak stands, breeding programme and the selection procedure. The delegates found the experience very satisfying, informative and fun. Even a drop of rain did not stop them from continuing their discussions with the Dutch experts. The delegates were pleased that the mission helped identify areas of mutual interest that will lead to the establishment of collaborative links, as well as knowledge that will inform their future work.
Later this year, the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) will bring over experts on tree disease to establish links with Dutch researchers working on tree pests and pathogens.