By Peter McCracken
Over the last few years the forestry industry has seen a significant increase in demand for British native trees and shrubs. This grant driven trend for increased planting of native species has made the issue of the seed origin of the planting stock more relevant than ever. Heightened awareness of the ecological and bio-diversity implications of genetic seed origin has resulted in the Forestry Commission recommending that foresters creating new native woodlands by planting, should where possible source trees grown from seed collected from the most appropriate local seed sources. The current thinking is laid out in some detail in the Forestry Authority Practice Note FCPN8, titled: 'Using Local Stock for Planting Native Trees and Shrubs'. The difficulty for foresters in finding suitable stock, or rather in finding nurseries which grow that stock, is a problem that needs to be addressed if these guidelines are to be put into practice.|
The increased interest in genetic 'localness' of trees has also resulted in a small but significant increase in start-ups of small tree nurseries working in very constrained geographical areas, producing trees for a very local niche market. These 'cottage industry' nurseries have production levels which are dwarfed by the larger tree producers that typify the UK nursery sector. This difference in scale shouldn't however detract from their importance in the market place as they tend to win a high degree of loyalty from their customers and produce excellent quality trees. These very small, almost 'micro' nurseries are often the only people that can collect, grow and supply the more obscure seed origins that greatly enhance small planting schemes around the country. Many of these small nurseries are non-commercial and their activities are closely associated with a conservation or charity group.
As a commercial 'micro' nursery owner, it became obvious to me through contacts with other small growers in the Reforesting Scotland, Local Native Tree Nurseries Group, that a database of small growers might be of use to foresters, community groups or individuals planning to create woodlands. (I should say it would also be of great use to us in marketing our trees with our limited resources!). A paper database was produced for small growers in Scotland some years ago but didn't make the impact that it might have done with a wider distribution. The advent of the internet, and more importantly the rapid rise in its use in the UK, lead us to the conclusion that our simple database could be made available on the web and could reach a much larger audience. The result of these musings was for us to set-up a new web site called www.TreeTrader.co.uk. The original concept has grown considerably with time and the site is now a commercial, subscription based business, offering a wide range of services to users and subscribers.
Our aim for TreeTrader is to build a complete database of all UK nurseries growing British native trees. Users can search this database for the species and seed origins that they need and obtain contact information for the nurseries growing those trees. The site is not restricted to small nurseries, we hope all scales of producers will be represented. Search results will list 'National' and 'Local' scale producers side-by-side in as democratic a way as possible.
To complement the nursery information, there is also a database for other related woodland businesses; it will include everything from harvesting to publishing, sole traders to plc's. It should be possible to source tree-ties or mature woodlands ready for harvest. The content will only be limited by what subscribers want to include. To encourage the speedy population of the databases, subscription will be free for each subscriber's first year so that they can try out the service and see if it works for them. Joining TreeTrader could bring further advantages to businesses not already pursuing an internet marketing strategy. They can use their TreeTrader pages as their own web site (with their own domain name i.e. YourNursery.co.uk), and include most of the information that they currently make available to customers in paper form, such as price or availability lists. There will also be significant financial advantages in sharing all the hosting, site promotion, advertising and maintenance in one site. This will be especially so for small businesses, for whom the costs of a building and maintaining a bespoke web site can be alarming.
As well as the databases, the site will also have a News & Views forum where information and opinions can be exchanged. There is a free Classified Ads section for sales to the public and business to business. It is hoped that a genuinely exciting fertilisation can occur between all sectors of the forestry industry and indeed with the wider public.
The way of the web, due mainly to information overload, seems to be more to the grouping together of related interests in a single site or portal. Although in time more sites relating to forestry may emerge TreeTrader, with its focus on native trees, seems unique in the UK at the moment. It will be the subscribers who will shape it and their common appeal to site users that will ultimately determine its success. Why not add the flavour of your business to the pot and see whether the cyber-world gets a taste for the resulting stew?
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