Successful tree growth in a changing climate 

Date 24.05.2023
Category Software
Author LJ Stocks

Mitigating risk with proactive planning 

Successful tree growth in a changing climate 

It’s no secret that our global climate is changing, and with it, we’ll see a change in the natural world. Species that once thrived might struggle with the change, and at our Tree SMART Live event in January, Head of Arboriculture at Kew Gardens, Kevin Martin explained how they are planning to mitigate this risk for their tree collection. 

Starting with research 

With 2000 different plant and tree species in their collection, Kew needs to understand which may be at risk of being lost in the forthcoming years as temperature and precipitation levels change. Research is guiding this succession planning, to ensure Kew’s landscape is sustainable into the future. This fits with their mission statement: 

“To understand and protect plants and fungi for the wellbeing of people and the future of all life of Earth.” 

Kew is using climate models to understand the potential effects on different tree species, looking at those with the highest success rate and the greatest chance of survival in our predicted future climate. Their analysis has shown that 15% of Kew’s collection will comfortably survive through the changing climate, 38% are at the edge of the range, and 47% will not be able to tolerate any of the expected climate changes. 

Repeated on a national scale with local authority tree collections, Kew found that 42% would comfortably survive or thrive with the changing climate, 17% were on the edge and 27% would not be able to tolerate any changes, being lost by 2050. This leaves 14% which were out of range; hybrid species or unable to be assessed. These results show just how important it is to explore alternative options. The summer of 2022 gave a small insight to just how fast some of our current trees will be affected by rising temperatures. Kevin said, “It was quite scary to see the Kew collection suffer so quickly”. 

Kew has also mapped global climates, looking at similar environments and identifying which species will thrive in a range of different climates. This will help transform planting programmes in the future, understanding which trees are going to survive our predicted climate. 

Testing the theories 

Modelling mean precipitation and temperatures is key to forecasting and making predictions on the suitability of trees across the country, however, Kew is also testing a range of species over the next two to three years. Taking three tree species that fall within each of the three range categories, they will grow 50 cuttings of each to test the modelling data. Resources such as this will be crucial to protecting the health of our tree stock, ensuring we fully understand the trees that will thrive, and what we can do to protect those that will not survive our changing climate. Kew will be able to use science and data to highlight those, and then identify more habitable spaces around the world and ensure species are moved to those climates to protect them, long-term. 

Working in partnership 

Kew and KaarbonTech have teamed up to use Kew’s research and knowledge for the benefit of wider local authority tree stock. Kew is planning to create a toolkit to advise on the planting of appropriate species, and the partnership will enable greater communication with local authorities across the country.  

Our Tree SMART software solution is an essential tool in the collection of data and the proactive programming of tree maintenance, including planting programmes. Tree SMART enables the monitoring of tree condition, allowing local authorities to quantify the scale of vulnerable trees and understand the best survey methods to minimise risk. Kew’s research will allow us to quickly identify trees that won’t tolerate a changing climate and take proactive action to replace them with those that will thrive. Creating a sustainable landscape will protect the future of our tree stock across the country, and by taking action now, we are ensuring that the right trees will be able to withstand predicted climate changes. Trees are an essential part of our landscape, with many benefits to the highway sector. See our previous article outlining these benefits here, and for more information about Tree SMART visit our dedicated page, or contact us