We plant a variety of trees and shrubs across the Forest of Marston Vale - all with unique benefits to the environment and local wildlife. If you love trees as much as we do then you can Dedicate a Tree, or trees at any of our woodlands from only £20!

For some interesting facts about everything we plant, scroll through our list below, or to find out more about the wildlife and plant life of the Forest of Marston vale, click here.

Trees

  • Oak
  • Hornbeam
  • Silver birch
  • Field maple
  • Wild cherry
  • Common alder
  • Ash
  • Hazel

acorns on an oak tree

OAK Quercus robur

Our National Tree(!) can support around 500 species of insects (more than any other tree in this country).

Acorns aren’t produced until the oak is at least 40 years old and feed loads of small mammals and birds, especially jays who tend to bury them (but squirrels usually nibble away at them, so they won’t grow).

Historically oaks are really significant - druids used to carry out their rituals in oak groves, ancient kings wore oak crowns, Roman emperors were given crowns of oak leaves at victory parades and oak was sacred to the Greek god Zeus – god of thunder and lightning (which is apt, as they’re prone to lightning strikes as they’re so tall!)

Can live to well over 1000 years old in the right conditions – hopefully ones we’ve planted will make it to the next millennium!

HORNBEAM Carpinus betulus

Easy to confuse with beech as it looks so similar.

The wood of the hornbeam is really hard (in old English, ‘horn’ meant hard, and ‘beam’ meant tree) so it’s often used for making really sturdy things like windmill cogs and butchers chopping blocks.

It has papery, oval, winged seeds called ‘samaras’ (otherwise known as ‘helicopters’) and sycamore trees.

SILVER BIRCH Betula pendula

We plant silver birch as a pioneer tree which means it grows fast and helps to pull other trees up with it as it grows.

It’s a pretty useful tree - the silver bark can be used in bushcraft to help light fires; it’s masses of tiny seeds are perfect food for small birds; it can host up to 300 species of insects and you can even put a ‘tap’ into the tree and ferment the sap to make wine.

Its deep roots bring up nutrients that other trees’ roots can’t reach, so when the birch then drops its leaves, other trees then get the nutrients from them. They have a light and airy canopy and let lots of light hit the woodland floor, which helps species like anemones, bluebells and wood sorrel to grow.

As it’s Finland’s National Tree, Finnish people often hit themselves with birch branches in the sauna as it’s supposed to be good for the blood flow…

In early Celtic mythology, the birch symbolised renewal & purification and bundles of twigs were tied together to drive out the spirits of the new year.

Field Maple in autumn

FIELD MAPLE Acer campestre

Our only native maple – known for its beautiful, autumn colours (look out for reddish, green winged samara or ‘winged fruit’). As they’re so tolerant to pollution you see a lot of them planted in towns and cities.

The tree provides food for aphids, leaves provide foods for caterpillars, and the flowers provide nectar for invertebrates – pretty useful all round!

WILD CHERRY Prunus avium

This tree produces lovely flowers early in the year, so they’re a great early source of nectar and pollen for bees whereas birds and small mammals love the cherries, and disperse the seeds when they eat them (although the tree can also reproduce using suckers).

The tree produces a special ‘gum’ when the bark is damaged, which seals it up & protects the tree from getting an infection. If only humans could do the same…

Wild cherries have been eaten by humans since at least the early Bronze Age and the resin was traditionally used to improve eyesight and complexion, though it’s mildly toxic! Nowadays, the wood is used to make wood veneers and for wood burners, burning with a distinctive sweet smell.

Alder catkins

COMMON ALDER Alnus glutinosa

Alder looks very similar to birch, but with small cones. If you wondered, the yellow catkins are male and the green ones are female!

It likes wet conditions and because it can withstand them without rotting, it is often used for constructing piers and timber structures underwater – the timbers under the Rialto in Venice are alder (and its roots make great nests for otters!)

Bad news for hayfever sufferers – alder (and birch) pollen is one of the main triggers.

Ash tree in winter

ASH Fraxinus excelsior

Sadly, the 3rd most common tree in the UK is no longer being widely planted since Chalara Dieback (Hymenoscyphus frazineus) was confirmed to have started spreading in 2012. The disease weakens the tree to the point where it either dies, or is killed by other fungi. Some trees are resistant to the disease, so scientists are looking at their genetics to see if resistant ash trees can be bred in future.  There’s more information about the disease at the Forestry Commission website.


HAZEL Corylus avellana

Their leaves and nuts are important food for birds, dormice and other small mammals.

It can be coppiced (cut from the base) so that the shoots grow into straight poles which can be woven into things like fence panels. People used to make wattle and daub houses out of hazel poles daubed with wet soil / clay / sand but nowadays they’re used to make ‘stakes and binders’ for traditional hedge laying.


Shrubs

  • Crab apple
  • Wild service
  • Hawthorn
  • Goat willow
  • Spindle
  • Dogwood
  • Wayfaring tree
  • Guilder rose
  • Wild privet

CRAB APPLE Malus sylvestris

Older trees can become twisted and gnarled, which may be where ‘crab’ comes from.

Crab apples are associated with love and marriage. If you throw the pips into the fire while saying the name of your love, the love is true if the pips explode(!)

Food wise, in some southeast Asian cultures they are used as a sour condiment, sometimes eaten with salt and chili pepper, or shrimp paste. Also, smoke given off by burning crab apple wood gives excellent flavour to smoked foods.

WILD SERVICE TREE Sorbus torminalis

The name “service” may come from the Latin “cerevisea” meaning ‘beer’ because the fruits were used to flavour beer (before the introduction of hops). It is sometimes known as Chequers/Checkers which may be related to the ancient symbol of a pub being the chequer-board!

Torminalis refers to colic as the tree was used as a medicine for tummy ache. A drink made from the fruit was also said to keep away the plague.

A popular dessert fruit until recent years, its berries are round or pear shaped and the size of small cherries, but can only be eaten when they’ve been softened, or ‘bletted’ by frost. Remains of the berries have even been found in prehistoric sites.

They are rare in England, and are often confused with maple because the leaves are similar.

Hawthorn berries

 HAWTHORN/MAY BLOSSOM Crataegus monogyna

It’s fruits are called ‘haws’ and are rich in antioxidants – you can make jellies, wines and ketchups out of them. They are also an important food source for migrating birds and their flowers are highly scented to attract bees, along with the 300 species of insects.

People used to think that bringing hawthorn blossom into the house would be followed by illness and death as (in Medieval times) they thought hawthorn blossom smelled like the Great Plague. This is because trimethylamine in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. Lovely!

The only British plant named after the month in which it blooms!

Goat willow tree

GOAT WILLOW Salix caprea

Also known as the ‘sallow willow’ or ‘pussy willow’ (because of their grey flowers which look a bit like cats paws) they are associated with sadness and mourning, probably since Shakespearian times as in Hamlet, Ophelia drowns herself after falling out of a willow.

Likes woodlands & hedgerows, as well as damper areas and river banks (unfortunately for Ophelia).

People used to get Aspirin (salicylic acid is the chemical in aspirin) by boiling the bark.

 SPINDLE Euonymus europaea

Also called ‘louseberry tree’ and ‘skewerwood’, because baked and powdered fruits used to be used to treat head lice, and the very hard, dense wood can be used to make skewers, spindles and knitting needles. Today, spindle wood is made into high quality charcoal for artists to use.

They produce beautiful pink fruit pods, with bright orange seeds, that produce lots of nectar. Aphids and caterpillars eat the leaves so their predators, hoverflies and ladybirds, are also found around the shrub.

 DOGWOOD Cornus species

Dogwood twigs were used by pioneers to brush their teeth - they would peel off the bark, bite the twig and then scrub their teeth! The first laminated tennis rackets were also made from thin strips of dogwood.

They have lovely autumn foliage, and their creamy flowers and berries are great for insects, birds and mammals.

Wayfaring tree flowers

 WAYFARING TREE Viburnum lantana

They are common along roadsides and footpaths – hence the name.

Their berries are unusual as both ripe (black) and unripe (red) berries are found on them at the same time. Birds and small mammals can eat the berries but if humans eat too many, they are mildly poisonous and upset your stomach.

 GUELDER ROSE Vibernum opulus

The common name 'guelder rose' relates to the Dutch province of Gelderland, where it supposedly originated. They are also one of the national symbols of Ukraine.

When raw, the berries are mildly toxic to humans, but can still be cooked and made into a jam.

 WILD PRIVET Ligustrum vulgare

Privet was used in Britain as a replacement for railings around houses/ flats as in 1941, the government compulsorily took down peoples post-1840 gates and railings so the metal could be melted down to make weapons in WW2 (although this didn't happen in the end). You can still see stubs of sawn-off railings along lots of garden walls in the UK, often partly hidden by privet bushes.

It's flowers produce a very strong smell.

The berries are extremely poisonous to humans but thrushes love them!


GET INVOLVED WITH TREES

If you're interested in getting more hands on with trees, why not  have a go at volunteering and help out at our woodlands?

Get out and about in the Forest of Marston Vale - check out our other sites, and see which one's closest to you! We have some downloadable kids' activity sheets to help you identify what trees and shrubs you find on your trip.