Farmers and gardeners appreciate the importance of a good seed source. The same goes for forestry.

Obtaining seed from the right source is crucial to growing healthy quality trees. Get that wrong, and the rest of the process of growing trees for timber and their other multiple benefits can be made a mockery.

Bound up in the genetic code or DNA of the seed is the potential for either good or poor tree growth, the eventual shape of the tree and even resistance to diseases.

Harvesting larch © Forestry Commission

Tree species which occur across wide geographical areas evolve sub-populations with slight but distinctive characteristics which suit them to that particular place. They may look alike but have subtle genetic differences which help them survive and thrive under different conditions.

It is vital to match tree seedlings to a site to which they are best suited if they are to be successful.

Man has been moving plant species around both locally and internationally for many centuries. The place from which a seed has been collected is called the provenance. The origin is where the remote traceable ancestors of that tree came from.

To ensure seed quality, the Forestry Commission maintains the National Register of Seed Stands where the parent trees of outstanding quality are recorded.

J. JacksonForestry Commission

Improved seeds can also be produced and harvested from seed orchards where the parent trees are managed exclusively for seed production. The trees grown there have been specially selected for some desirable feature and may be the result of special crossings.

Regulations govern the sale of a number of tree species within the European Community.

Particularly for amenity and wildlife plantings, the emphasis is now on growing and planting trees from native local seed sources.

Natural regeneration is not always successful in the UK. For some species like oak and beech, good seed or mast years are erratic. Wildlife - especially deer - can eat large numbers of seedling trees and halt any natural regeneration unless expensive fencing is used.

More: Trees of Time and Place is a campaign to encourage people to plant and grow their favourite trees from seeds.

The RFS is a founder member of the Tree Council who organise a Tree Collecting Sunday each autumn.