USING a breeding technique called ‘genomic selection’, researchers from Oxford hope to accurately identify fast growing trees with superior timber quality.

If proven a success, the research could improve the economic value of future spruce plantations in the UK and enhance the quality of the wood required to build houses.

Academics from Oxford University, Edinburgh and Forest Research, an agency of the Forestry Commission, carried out the ‘Sitka Spruced’ research initiative co

The Sitka spruce is the UK’s primary timber species. Fast growing and suited to the moist climate of western and northern Britain, the species produces a versatile white wood, with uses from paper making, to building construction.

It takes around 40 years from planting before most Sitka spruce trees are harvested, and only a proportion of those trees meet the stronger, higher value construction grades.

The project will scan hundreds of trees for variations in their DNA and then match those variations with fast-growing trees that produce superior timber. This will enable scientists to screen the DNA of the trees, to identify the fastest growing, with the best quality timber.

Professor John MacKay, project lead and wood professor of forest science at Oxford University, said: 'I am really excited to be part of such a research landmark, breeding to increase the economic return of Sitka spruce. The economics are clear if it becomes possible to grow three rotations in the same period of time it used to take to grow two."