Delegates from over twenty countries concluded that the best way to ensure a steady supply of seeds for future forests is to create dedicated areas that are managed as ‘seed producing orchards’. The conference organiser professor Dag Lindgren described seed orchards as the ‘cradles from which generations of seeds will come to bring benefits to the forest owners, the environment and mankind’.

Seed orchards are reservoirs of genes which are passed to future generations of trees. The benefits of establishing seed orchards and collecting their harvest of seeds are healthier forests which are more productive and capable of taking up more of the carbon dioxide from the earth’s atmosphere. The latest technologies to design and manage seed orchards so that they produce seeds of the highest genetic quality were discussed at the three day conference. Many technical papers described systems of seed production which can safeguard genetic diversity as well as important genetic gains. A greater use of seed orchards for generating forests will ensure that they will be productive and sustainable in a wide range of environments.

The value of seed orchards for conservation of genetic diversity was recognised especially for tree and shrub species which are threatened by loss of habitat, climatic change and recurrent environmental disasters such as fires. Delegates heard that without seed orchards of certain pines it would not be possible to restore some Greek forests which were destroyed by the forest fires of 2007. Species, such as black pine and fir trees cannot regenerate naturally after fire. Fortunately, in this case, supplies of seed are available from black pine seed orchards. More seed orchards are needed in Europe and worldwide.

Jan-Erik Nilsson, Department of forest genetics and plant physiology, SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences), Umea, Sweden, telephone +46 90 786 82 56.

Bengt Andersson, Skogforsk, Sävar, telephone +46 90 203 33 58.