How dare trees ‘self-seed’ themselves?

What is it with people and ‘self-seeded’ trees? If you read this newspaper article you’ll read of a very common situation across the country, this time in Middlesborough. It will have happened somewhere near you, too. A bit of land is threatened with development. It has trees on it. Some people want to keep the trees. Others prefer development. Conflict ensues; arguments rage one way or another. In this particular case the land has some trees on it of which the pro-development lobby says:

…there is no record of any official planting of trees on the site and they have “self- seeded”

This apparantly means to them that the trees are of less value than if somebody had planted them, let alone somebody ‘official’, which would presumably have made them even better. The anti-development lobby hits back with this:

They say the trees are self-seeded but they are in rows. It’s uncertain who planted them but who has ever heard of self-seeded silver birch growing in rows?

So they, too, think that if somebody has planted the trees they might be more worthy of protection. Both parties in this particular debate are quite wrong. This concept is quite widespread. The Ranger encounters the misapprehension regularly in his work. But he believes that it’s actually completely back-to-front. Self-seeded trees (or ‘natural regeneration’ as we like to call them) are actually more valuable than planted ones. Yes, much more! Why is this? Here’s why.

Common Ground
  • Self-seeded plants are likely to be more robust, having grown up resistant to the local weather and wildlife, appropriate for the soil, and with any weaklings already selected out by natural selection.
  • Self-seeded plants are free! How much more sustainable than that can you get?
  • Naturally grown plants are more pleasing to the eye, being different shapes, sizes ages and colours and not a uniform crop.

So next time you encounter somebody decrying trees as ‘merely self-seeded’, stop and think. What do they really mean by this? Are they perpetrating an injustice on our tenacious trees? What makes us think that we can do better than the trees left to themselves?