Trees for Wildlife

Beech (Fagus sylvatica)

A large, full-bodied tree, the Beech can grow up to 30m (100ft) with an impressive spread of around 20m (65ft) if left to flourish. Though shade tolerant, it prefers an open location with full sunlight and moist, rich soil with good drainage. Easy to trim and prune from a young age, Beech is also a popular hedging plant.

Common across southern Britain, this hardy tree produces a full coverage of bright green leaves in the spring. Becoming a deeper green through summer, they eventually turn a glorious reddish-brown in the autumn. They’re also an attractive prospect for wildlife, providing a rich food source.

Bird Cherry (Prunus padus)

Being hardy and versatile, the British native Bird Cherry tree fares well in many different locations and is easy to spot in woods as well as hedgerows and even riverbanks. Growing well in moist, fertile soil and positioned in full or partial sun, it can reach up to 15m (50ft), making it ideal for larger gardens or parks.

With its spectacular white, almond-scented blossom, the Bird Cherry tree is a showstopper for a short period in the spring. Going on to produce small, black fruits in the summer, particularly enjoyed by birds, before its leaves turn a distinctive yellow-bronze, falling in the autumn.

Blackthorn (Prunus spinosa)

A small, deciduous tree native to the British Isles, the Blackthorn can grow up to 5m (16ft) in height. This hardy specimen is more commonly used as an easily maintained dense shrub, ideal for sturdy and secure hedging due to its tough, thorny branches. Growing well in many moist, yet well-drained soil types, Blackthorn can thrive in exposed or sheltered areas, if positioned in full sun.

Producing leaves in early spring, its white flowers appear shortly afterwards. Its sloe berry fruit ripens through September/October and is commonly used for jams and sloe gin. Blackthorn also attracts nesting birds and wildlife thanks to its thick, protective coverage and its rich source of food and pollen.

Crab Apple (Malus sylvestris)

Native across the British Isles, the Crab Apple is a small tree with a dense crown, capable of growing up to 10m (30ft) with a spread of around 5m (16ft). Growing vigorously in most well-drained but moist, even heavy soil types, it can tolerate full sun or partial shade. Easy to cut back, Crab Apple is often used as a hedging plant.

Producing a fine display of pink-white blossom in the spring, Crab Apple is particularly attractive to pollinating bees. Producing yellowy-red fruits in autumn that can be used for jam or wine making, Crab Apples are also a favoured food source for birds and wildlife.

Dogrose (Rosa canina)

Native across the UK and Europe, the Dogrose is a fast growing, rambling and tough climbing shrub. Its sharp, hooked thorns help it climb, reaching up to 5m (15 ft) in height, so is perfectly suited to wild hedgerows or informal garden beds and borders for coverage. Thriving in most soil types, it copes well in full sun or partial shade, and is resilient to most conditions, though doesn’t fare well in coastal areas.

The Dogrose’s fragrant, five-petalled, pale pink flowers open up in June/July and can continue through to the autumn. This is followed by an abundance of glossy, orange-red hips that ripen throughout September and October that are a good early autumn food source for birds and wildlife.

Downy Birch (Betula pubescens)

A medium size tree capable of growing up to 20m (65ft), the Downy Birch is a UK native that feels at home in damp locations such as woodlands, near rivers or areas with higher rainfall. Though it copes well with heavy soils and handles exposed locations well, it is light demanding and requires full sun or partial shade to thrive.

It flowers in April/May with both long (male) and short (female) catkins, followed by diamond shaped leaves that turn yellow in the autumn. The Downy Birch also provides a good source of food and shelter to many birds, insects and wildlife. It’s not unusual to see woodpeckers making their home in its trunk also.

Elder (Sambucus nigra)

Common all over the UK, the Elder is a small tree, but is primarily seen as a spreading shrub used for screening or in hedgerows. Vigorously growing to heights of around 5m (16ft), it can have an equal spread of around 4 - 5m (13 - 16ft). The Elder gives its best growth when in its ideal sheltered position in direct sunlight with moist and fertile soil.

With its fragrant white flowers blossoming around June, the Elder produces its familiar hanging clusters of purple-black berries that ripen through August and September. Also attractive to birds as food, the Elderberries are often used for making jam and wine.

Guelder Rose (Viburnum opulus)

Native to the UK, this hardy deciduous spreading shrub, flowers in spring through to July, producing bee-friendly flower heads with flat white petals. Its red berry fruits are a favourite source of food for birds and appear as the leaves turn a rich red/yellow in the autumn. Though equally as beautiful in full and fragrant flower, the Guelder Rose, it should be pointed out, is not a rose.

Often planted as an ornamental shrub, the Guelder Rose is also a familiar sight in wild hedgerows and woodlands. Growing up to 5m (16ft) tall with a similar spread in most soil types, it’s partial to moist or wetter environments, thriving in full sun, full shade or anywhere in between.

Hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna)

One of the UK's most common hedgerow plants, the Hawthorn creates strong, thick hedging for farm or rural land when regularly pruned and maintained. It’s slow growing, but left to spread, it grows to a large shrub or small tree reaching heights of between 5 - 14m (16 - 45ft). A tough and hardy plant, the Hawthorn can handle planting in exposed areas, but prefers full sun and moist, fertile soil.

The Hawthorn’s leaves provide a glossy dark green backdrop for its white blossom, appearing in late spring. A favourite for bees, when pollinated it produces rich red fruits known as Haws. A good food source for birds, they ripen in September before the leaves turn yellow-red, falling in autumn.

Hazel (Corylus avellana)

A common UK native, the Hazel is a familiar sight in hedgerows up and down the country. Favoured in hedging for its fast growing, thick coverage, it’s also a frequently coppiced tree. As a small tree, the Hazel can typically grow from 3 - 8m (10 - 26ft), but can reach 15m (50ft). Hardy and adaptable, it grows well in all soils ranging from dry to wet and well-drained.

Preferring a sheltered location, the Hazel is shade tolerant, but does flourish a full sun position if possible. WIth yellow catkins appearing in mid-February, it’s often first to provide colour. And, providing a rich food source for birds and wildlife, its nut clusters appear from September/October onwards.

Holly (Ilex aquifolium)

An evergreen shrub that’s a familiar and much loved sight all over the UK. The Holly is commonly seen as a large shrub growing to around 4 - 7m (12 - 25ft), but is an excellent and sturdy hedging plant when grown to approx. 1m (3ft). Though slow growing, it’s adaptable to almost any soil type except very wet.

Known for its dark green, glossy - and spiky - leaves, the Holly has both male and female varieties for cross pollination, resulting in the female producing its wildlife-friendly striking red berries. With both showing yellowy-white flowers, the female produces less and have four distinct petals. Extremely hardy and resilient, it’s also shade tolerant, though could produce fewer berries.

Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium)

One of the UK’s best known hedging plants, the Privet is a hardy evergreen, perfect for boundaries and screening. Growing at an exceptional rate, Privet can reach heights of around 4m (13ft) to create a dense, low maintenance hedge that provides an excellent barrier to noise and wind.

Thriving in practically any soil type, Privet can grow just as well in almost any location, from full sun to full shade. Clusters of white flowers appear in summer, which then give way to small, black berries, much loved by birds and wildlife, in the autumn. However, regularly trimmed Privet will not produce flowers or fruits.

Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

A well known and small to medium tree, familiar in gardens everywhere, the Rowan is a hardy, undemanding and vigorous grower that thrives in open and sunny positions. Coping well in a variety of soils, it can reach heights of up to 15m (50ft), but is easily pruned to control growth and shape.

The Rowan also has high wildlife quota attached to it. Blossoming between April and May, its clusters of off-white flowers provide pollen for bees and many insects. The bright red berries that appear from August to October are an important and rich autumn food source for many birds. The Rowan also provides classic autumnal leaf colours before falling.

Spindle (Euonymus europaeus)

Native to the UK and Europe, the Spindle is a vigorous and fast-growing shrub, often used as a hedging plant. Reaching up to 3m (9ft) tall, it’s incredibly hardy once established. Though it grows well in most soils, it prefers a well-drained and nutrient-rich situation in either full sun or partial shade.

Due to its stunning flower display, it’s often used as an ornamental shrub, adding a big splash of colour to any garden. A good source of nectar for bees and other pollinators, the hot pink flowers open in May/June to reveal bright orange seeds. Come autumn, the dark green summer leaves turn a purple-red before falling.

Sweet Chestnut (Castanea sativa)

Introduced to Britain by the Romans, the Sweet Chestnut tree is perhaps best known for its edible chestnuts, popular at Christmas. Commonly used for coppicing, this fast-growing tree can reach between 25 - 30m (80 - 100ft) with a spread of around 15m (50ft). Although hardy and drought resistant, it does require full sunlight to grow best in light, fertile and well-drained soil.

Its pale green catkins flower and are insect pollinated in early summer before turning to green, spiky fruits. With each fruit containing between 1 - 3 of the familiar chestnuts, these ripen throughout October and November. Long pointed, dark green leaves turn yellow in autumn.

Wild Cherry (Prunus avium)

Famed for its fine display of pinky-white, sweet blossom in April and May, the Wild Cherry is certainly an ornamental tree. Capable of growing between 10 - 20m (30 - 65ft) in a sunny position, this medium to large tree is well suited to most soils, particularly those of a chalky or sandy constitution. North facing positions are best avoided.

With its fabulous blossom appearing in April/May, the eagerly anticipated black cherry fruits ripen through July and August. Edible and delicious for us as well as many birds and assorted wildlife, they’re a favoured food source. It provides another fine display in autumn as its leaves turn a delightful blend of gold and russet.

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