Native versus non-native woodland

Our native trees and shrubs are valuable, as they provide much of our native wildlife with its natural habitats.

Native woodland

Native tree species are those that became established in the British Isles after the most recent glacial period, around 11,000 years ago. Native woodland is descended directly from these trees.

Native tree and shrub species provide much of our native wildlife with its natural habitats, so are a valuable part of Britain’s nature and landscapes. This is why we seek to maintain the native trees and shrubs in our woods.

Some native tree and shrub species are linked to a huge number and range of wildlife. Other, less bountiful species are home to specialised flora and fauna. Tree and shrub species that grow in places where they’d naturally occur are usually of the greatest value to nature conservation.

Introduced species

Some tree species were natural colonists of the British Isles, while humans introduced other species.

It’s likely that many species were introduced to Britain on many occasions. But British woodland cover today is fragmented and tree planting has increased, so the natural distribution of tree species is hidden. It’s very difficult now to predict their natural biogeography.

Read about the history of Scotland’s woodlands.

Tree planting

The UK Forestry Standard recommends using plants of local provenance, preferably from semi-natural parent trees, when planting in semi-natural woodlands or to create native woodlands. Provenance refers to the stand from which the seed was collected.

The UK Woodland Assurance Standard also seeks the use of seed of local origin – i.e. the natural range from which the seed originally derived – to restock and plant semi-natural woodlands.

The Forestry Commission has developed a system to help with the sourcing of local stock for planting native tree and shrub species. Find out more in the Using Local Stock for Planting Native Trees and Shrubs practice note.

Non-native trees

Non-native trees can alter the character and species composition of the woods in which they occur. They may increase the potential richness of woodland. Or their impact may be negative if the trees cast too much shade or their leaf litter smothers the development of the field layer.

The value of each non-native species must usually be assessed within the site-specific context of the wood where it occurs. But the negative impact of some species is so universal that a blanket ban is apt.

For example, rhododendron smothers most aspects of native woodland and so should be removed when found within or close to all such sites.

Human influence

Woodland that hasn’t been managed or exploited by man isn’t necessarily free from human influence. Man-made environmental change often occurs at a landscape scale – and even protected forest areas are affected.

Even our definition of nativeness may have to change in future. Most woods show changes in their composition over a stand’s life-cycle. But climate change will noticeably affect the distribution of species in Scotland, with northward movement of species likely. Tree species may thus spread to areas where they aren’t locally native.

Trees and shrubs native to Scotland

Trees and shrubs native to Scotland
Latin name Common name
Alnus glutinosa Alder
Betula pendula Silver Birch
Betula pubescens Hairy birch
Corylus avellana Hazel
Crataegus monogyna Hawthorn
Cytisus scoparius Broom
Euonymus europaeus Spindle
Fraxinus excelsior Ash
Ilex aquifolium Holly
Juniperus communis Juniper
Malus sylvestris Crab apple
Pinus sylvestris Scot's pine
Populus nigra subsp betulifolia Black poplar
Populus tremula Aspen
Prunus avium Gean
Prunus padus Bird-cherry
Prunus spinosa Blackthorn
Quercus petraea Sessile oak
Quercus robur Pedunculate oak
Ribes rubrum Red currant
Ribes spicatum Erect-spiked red-currant
Rosa caesia Hairy dog rose
Rosa canina agg. Dog rose
Rosa mollis agg. Soft downy rose
Rosa rubiginosa Sweet briar
Rosa sherardii Sherard's downy rose
Rosa tomentosa Harsh downy rose
Rubus idaeus Raspberry
Salix aurita Eared sallow
Salix caprea Goat willow
Salix cinerea Grey willow
Salix myrsinifolia Dark-leaved willow
Salix pentandra Bay willow
Salix phylicifolia Tea-leaved willow
Salix purpurea Purple osier
Sambucus nigra Elder
Sorbus aucuparia Rowan
Taxus baccata Yew
Tilia cordata Small leaved lime
Ulex europaeus Gorse
Ulex gallii Western gorse
Ulmus glabra Wych elm
Vibernum opulus Guelder rose


Based on Preston, C. D., Pearman, D. A. & Dines, T. D. 2002. New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Species list adapted from ‘Origin and distribution of hedgerow species’, by Heather Robertson, English Nature, 13.06.06

Published: 2011

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