The team at TCV are experts when it comes to working out which varieties of tree will thrive where – they chose from 20 different trees and 5 different shrubs to pick whatever’s perfect for the situation.
We have loved learning more about the UK’s fantastic trees, so here’s the OVO guide to British native trees. It covers our favourites, how to identify them, and the birds and beasties you might spot in each.
These deciduous trees typically grow to around 25 meters, and around 8 meters across. They thrive in loan, chalk and clay soils, sunny spots and and grow well in both sun and shade. If you want to identify a common alder, look for grey-purple buds and pretty ‘catkins’ in winter, and shiny round, rich green leaves spring and summer. Common alder is a hardy, adaptable tree that thrives even in poor, wet conditions – which makes it ideal for reclaiming wasteland.
Birds commonly spotted in alder trees include siskin, redpoll and goldfinch – all adore alder seeds. If planted by waterways, alder tree wildlife can include fish like brown trout and salmon – the wood doesn’t rot under water, so provides a still-water haven for tasty bugs.
Strikingly pretty, the silver birch goes by many names. But whether you call her ‘lady of the woods’, ‘weeping birch’ or the less poetic ‘warty birch’, slender branches, and delicate leaves make this deciduous tree one of our favourites. Spot silver birch by looking out for peeling white bark, revealing pink and brown underlayers. Leaves are small and oval, and whisper when it’s windy. Great for planting in groups, and hardy enough to thrive in most situations, this tree also improves the soil.
Spot greenfinches, redpolls and siskins feeding on silver birch seeds, while woodpeckers and other hole-nesting birds often make their homes in the trunk.
Bird cherry – or hog cherry – is a neat bushy tree that grows to over 12 meters in height. Some grow small, bitter black edible cherries, though as you might guess from the name, it’s a strain that’s better for wildlife than human consumption. Flowers are fragrant and white, appearing in springtime in column shaped bunches. Spot the bird cherry by looking for elongated oval leaves that end in a gentle point – it’s especially attractive in autumn.
Bullfinches love bird cherry trees, so you’ll often spot this rare bird nibbling on the tree’s bitter fruit. Other birds spotted in bird cherry trees include blackbirds and song thrushes. You might even see a badger, dormouse or yellow-neck mouse tucking into fallen fruit.
From small acorns, great oaks grow, or so they say – and it’s true. A tree synonymous with longevity, oak is known as ‘king of the forest’. It can live for up to a millennium, and grow over 40 meters tall – what a legacy for OVO’s Greener Energy customers to leave. Couples got married under oak trees right up until Cromwell’s days, and the unique, wiggly-edged leaves are easy to spot and differentiate. Oak is a slow-maturing tree – it can take up to 50 years for first fruits (that’s acorns) to appear.
Who lives in oak trees? Jays, squirrels and a diverse range of creepy crawlies. This insect population attracts birds like great-spotted woodpeckers, while fallen acorns provide a feast for wood pigeons, mice and their predators, owls, sparrowhawks and buzzards.
Hazel – or cobnut – is the tree you’ll identify most easily in early spring. It’s long, yellow catkins dance like flickering flags in the early sunshine, before turning to an easy-to-forage hazelnut treat in autumn. Leaves are rounded, pale green, turning darker, then yellow in autumn. Relatively small, hazels grow to between 4-8 meters tall, and about the same width. It does well in chalky soil, as long as it gets the sun.
Hazel trees attract red and grey squirrels, mice and corvoids – that’s crows and jackdaws – as well as human foragers in nut season. Woodpeckers also love hazelnuts, and if you’re really lucky, you might even spot a nuthatch. Hazel leaves are popular with roe deer too.
Field maple’s at its finest in autumn, when its unusual five-lobed leaves turn golden yellow. Similar in shape to the maple leaf on the Canadian flag – but a little more rounded – they open in springtime with a red flush, then turn green as summer passes. Another good way to spot a field maple is by looking for its seeds. A bit like sycamore keys, the seeds are moustache-shaped, and spin like helicopter blades as they fall in late summer.
The most interesting inhabitant of the field maple is probably the sycamore moth caterpillar; a fuzzy creature with punky yellow hair, complete with red tufty tips. Its flowers attract bees, while aphids – and their feathered predators – all love our native maple variety.