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Trees are an absolute ‘must’ for the wildlife garden. It is a tree’s sheer scale that is the key. A tree trunk may occupy a square metre of the surface of your garden but from this square metre spreads a skyscraper of nature, with dozens of ‘storeys’, ‘staircases’ and ‘rooms’ for wildlife covering maybe a thousand cubic metres.

Such a mature tree provides food on a grand scale (thousands of leaves, kilos of fruit, tens of thousands of insects and their caterpillars…). It also provides shelter and shade, or alternatively an open place to perch and be seen. It provides places to breed, whether these be the nests of birds or the runnels in the bark where spiders spin their webs. It provides multiple microclimates, from the darkest dampest corners to the most exposed, windy and sunlit extremes. That all-important variety you are seeking is here in abundance!

People love trees, so you are probably lucky and already have trees in your garden. But if you have space for another, don’t hold back, plant one! The earlier you put one in, the more chance you will have to see it mature.

Choosing a tree

For wildlife, you can’t beat our native trees. Non-native trees such as horse chestnut or sycamore are better than no tree, but in terms of wildlife they are generally impoverished in comparison. For example, the oak supports 284 insect species in the UK, the horse chestnut just four.

The following species are all native to the British Isles. The sizes are maxima to show the kind of heights these trees can reach. Of course some, such as Beech and Hornbeam, can be kept clipped as hedges.

Large trees (30 metres+):

  • Carpinus betula hornbeam
  • Fagus sylvatica beech
  • Fraxinus excelsior ash
  • Pinus sylvestris Scots pine
  • Populus nigra black poplar
  • Quercus petraea sessile oak
  • Quercus robur pedunculate oak
  • Tilia cordata small-leaved lime
  • Tilia platyphyllos large-leaved lime
  • Ulmus glabra wych elm

Medium trees (15-30 metres)

  • Acer campestre field maple
  • Alnus glutinosa alder
  • Betula pendula silver birch
  • Betula pubescens downy birch
  • Populus tremula aspen
  • Salix fragilis crack willow
  • Salix pentandra bay willow
  • Sorbus aria whitebeam
  • Sorbus aucuparia rowan
  • Sorbus torminalis wild service tree
  • Taxus baccata yew

Small trees (less than 15 metres)

  • Arbutus unedo strawberry tree
  • Buxus sempervirens box
  • Corylus avellana hazel
  • Crataegus laevitana Midland hawthorn
  • Crataegus monogyna hawthorn
  • Ilex aquifolium holly
  • Juniperus communis juniper
  • Malus sylvestris crab apple
  • Prunus avium wild cherry
  • Prunus padus bird cherry
  • Salix alba white willow
  • Salix caprea goat willow.


'Information supplied by RSPB, August 2002'



Beech and Pine





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