Trees have been valued as a natural resource for thousands of years, and planting has a long history. The Romans brought many species of trees to Britain for their fruit and nuts. Orchards and garden trees were planted in the gardens of villas throughout Roman Britain.
There has long been, and remains, a strong urge for a landowner to plant trees. Trees are valued for shade, shelter and privacy, for flowers and fruit and for the wildlife which they bring. Trees are valuable for fuel, building and other uses. Wherever individuals have their own land, trees usually follow. One only has to look at the way newly built, private housing will ‘green’ within a few years, to realise how much we like to plant trees, given the chance.
Groups, organisations, companies and local authorities may also have the same urge to improve their properties by tree planting, and in addition may be motivated by the wider environmental benefits which trees bring. These include reduction of greenhouse gases, air pollution, noise and other problems.
Planting of introduced species, and trees valued for their appearance or function has a long history. Deliberate planting of native species for timber, shelter or landscaping has a much shorter history, having started from around 1600.
Tree planting will never replace ancient woodlands, which have special ecological value due to their continuous history (see below). As a rule there should be no planting in ancient woodlands, or in those areas where natural regeneration is able to maintain or increase woodland cover.
However, tree planting has great ecological benefits to complement those of the ancient and semi-natural woodlands. The leafy suburbs, urban parks and roadside plantings, and the natural colonisation of undeveloped urban land are together creating a mosaic of habitats to rival those of the ‘countryside’. So much rural land has become an ecological wasteland due to intensive agriculture, the removal or neglect of hedges, and the destruction or over-grazing of woodlands, that the creation of new woodland habitats by planting, natural regeneration and colonisation has become of great importance. Many woodland birds, for example, are now more numerous in the suburbs than they are in the countryside. Garden and street trees, shrubs and lawns reproduce the varied structure and cover of natural woodland, and for birds, the variety of non-native species is a bonus, providing extra food sources.