SilviBio was successful in applying for 2 projects in the Tree Production Innovation Fund, which was set up to support innovations that improve the quantity, quality and diversity of tree planting stock available for planting in England.
Project 1: Exploring pelletisation of broadleaf tree seed to facilitate moisture retention, mechanised planting, seedling growth and germination
In order to achieve the England Trees Action Plan’s goal of “putting the right tree in the right place,” we must diversify the tree species planted in commercial plantations and ecosystem restoration/revitalisation projects. This necessarily includes broadleaf species, such as silver birch, willow, alder and rowan. These particular species grow easily in otherwise challenging conditions, such as poor soil fertility and mountainous terrain. Given England’s tree planting commitments and need to increase sustainable timber production, these broadleaf species must be considered in tree planting projects. However, these species are difficult to integrate into mechanised planting operations due to their small sized and/or irregularly shaped seed. Furthermore, much like other tree species, there is a limited amount of broadleaf seed supply, and it must be used efficiently.
To resolve this issue, seed pelleting can be used. Sadly, there are effectively no commercially available seed pellets for broadleaf seeds in the UK market. Additionally, the pelleting process commonly used in the horticultural industry may cause moisture deprivation in broadleaf seeds. Given that these species are acutely sensitive to moisture deprivation, using standard pelleting techniques and materials may cause germination failures.
SilviBio proposes to use our patent-pending moisture retaining seed coating within a seed pellet to address the moisture needs of broadleaf seeds. By increasing seed weight, size and uniformity, our pelleting process will make these seeds easier to handle and uniform enough for mechanised planting. Furthermore, we will add growth and germination promoters to the downy birch seed pellet to assess if these additions improve germination and seedling establishment.
If successful, we will work with forest nurseries to increase their broadleaf seed use efficiency. Additionally, these seed pellets will allow us to pursue aerial drone seeding projects to inhibit erosion on dangerous slopes and otherwise inaccessible terrain.
Project 2: An investigation into the use of a moisture-retaining additive to develop peat-free alternatives for cell-grown tree production
Peatlands supply vital reservoirs for biodiversity and carbon sequestration. In fact, the world’s peatlands combined store twice as much carbon as the world’s forests. Thus, preserving these unique ecosystems is vital to securing a more sustainable future. However, peatlands are threatened by peat harvesting for horticultural uses. Peat has excellent water retaining properties and helps hold nutrients. Therefore, we need peat alternatives.
Sadly, current alternatives, such as composted bark, coconut coir and wood fiber, do not provide as good water and nutrient retention and re-wettability properties as peat. Thus, we must discover and create better alternatives.
Additionally, the forestry industry is shifting towards growing trees in glasshouses within cells. This shift away from field germinated tree seedlings is due to worker shortages and the phasing out of commonly used soil sterilants. Cell grown trees resolve both of these issues, but at the cost of increased peat usage within the tree cells.
SilviBio proposes to blend our moisture-retaining soil conditioner into existing peat-free growing mediums to produce a product that better retains water and nutrients. Adding our soil conditioner may also help retain fertilisers and other amendments, thereby preventing runoff and reducing costs. Importantly, our feasibility study answers the urgent need to decrease peat use and increase the forestry industry’s sustainability.
Our proposed project is a feasibility study and will investigate the water retaining and re-wettability properties of media, select optimum mixes and perform germination studies in a controlled environment.