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Trees are fantastic. They have so many uses; oxygen, shelters, fruits, tools, the list is endless. Those that like to be outdoors, you’ll know the benefits that trees can bring.

The best thing about the UK woodland is the range of species that live here. Some are native, some are not, they all have uses for us bushcrafters and outdoor people.

Certain characteristics such as the appearance and leaf shapes, also the texture of bark are still very useful means of identifying particular species. 

There are lot of different species and knowing which tree does what can be a little overwhelming at first. But with a little practice, you will get to know them in no time, even through the different seasons.

Please bear in mind that all trees and greenery give life to our planet. 

Use our trees in a caring manor and not to be detrimental to our environment. 

Please click here for more information on Environmental Health.

Here is a simple guide of some of the trees that live here in the UK and some of their uses.

TREE RECOGNITION & USES

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Silver birch

This tree is very distinctive. It has a silvery bark, and really thin twigs. The leaves on the tree are not big either and usually arrow head shaped, Silver Birch Trees are fast growing, attractive trees. Their trunks are pale in colour with black notches that create deep, diamond shaped fissures along the white bark.

Beneficial uses, let's see:

Fire lighting. The bark has a really high oil content. Great as a natural firelighter

The leaves are a natural soap known as Saponin, so you can use this when you are out of your own soap.

The wood is great for whittling and making wooden tools such as spoons and bowls.

Hazel 

The hazel tree is quite common. It is found to line field boundaries and paths and it can live for hundreds of years. Another interesting fact is that Hazel is monoecious which means a single tree has both female and male flowers. It's branches are extremely bendy and can be tied in knot without breaking. The leaves of Hazel are distinctive, being racket-shaped with a rough texture and a defined point.

Benefits and uses: 

Straight poles for making anything from Shelters to tent pegs also items for the camp.

You can use the thin branches for strong bindings as they are very flexible.

The nuts are edible (hazelnuts).

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Common Alder

Alder is a common tree that thrives in damp and wet environments. They are often found beside rivers and streams, where their roots help prevent soil erosion and hold the banks of the rivers together. Its bark is rough and fissured, and its leaves are dark green, relatively smooth and similar shape to the hazel leaf but lack the point. Also they are usually covered in lichen.

Beneficial uses:

Great for friction fire-lighting.

A good indicator of water sources.

Wood for smoking meat and fish.

Able to withstand rotting in water.

Common Lime

There are 3 main types:

Small-leaved, long-leaved and common (hybrid).

They have a pale grey coloured bark which is smooth to look at. The tend to have small leafy shoots towards the base of the tree. The leaves of a lime tree are pretty recognisable being a heart-like shape and are very flimsy. In the Autumn you’ll notice that the leaves turn a very dull yellow colour before dropping off the tree. The bark of a lime tree is often used in the making or rope and cordage, which makes it extremely useful to us outdoor people.

Beneficial Uses:

Inner bark for cordage.

Friction fire-lighting.

The wood doesn’t warp so good building material.

The young leaves are edible.

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Sycamore

Sycamore trees are aggressive in terms of colonisation.

These broadleaf trees can grow to 35m and live for 400 years. The bark is dark pink-grey, and smooth when young, but becomes cracked and develops small plates with age. Twigs are pink-brown and hairless. 

The leaves on a Sycamore are very distinctive, and not too dissimilar to its cousin the Maple tree. Its buds are also distinctive, being quite large, green and egg-shaped with scales in opposite pairs. Even more distinctive are its wing nut shaped seeds (They spin as they fall). 

Uses:

Friction fire-lighting

The wood is durable yet light – excellent for carving utensils,

such as ladles and wooden spoons as the wood does not taint or stain the food.

Ash

Ash is probably one of the most common trees you will find the British woodland.

However, in recent years it’s been massively affected by a disease known as ‘Ash dieback’, which is a fungus which originated in Asia. 

These trees are quite tall, reaching up to 35m.

They have a grey bark which become fissured and cracked with age. The leaves of Ash are compound leaves made up of numerous (usually 4 to 5) opposite pairs of leaflets and one terminal leaflet. The wood of the Ash tree is one of the toughest hardwoods making it ideal for heavy duty tasks.

Beneficial uses:

Excellent firewood.

Ideal for making tool handles (good shock absorber)

and making bows.

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Chestnut

This species is rare in the North of the UK, but abundant in the South (Primarily South East).

Coppiced for centuries this was an important tree for uses from charcoal to gunpowder to hop poles.

Chestnuts are a popular nut, especially so during the Christmas period. These trees are still often coppiced, but if let to grow, they can grow to the size of a traditional Oak tree.

The unmistakable thing you’ll notice about the nuts of the sweet Chestnut are that they are covered in prickly green cases.

These are similar to the cases of the Horse Chestnut tree, but note only the Sweet Chestnut nuts are edible.

Beneficial uses:

Edible nuts (only the sweet chestnut tree).

Wood is reasonably easy to work, but not as strong as other types.

The inner bark makes good tinder.

Hawthorne

A mainstay of many rural fence lines, the thorns form a natural deterrent to livestock. Its brilliant white flourish of blossom in late spring makes it unmissable. Hawthorn has distinctive, deeply lobed leaves. In the late summer it forms many bright red berries, which resemble small rose hips. The blossom and leaves are edible in spring, as are the berries later in the year.

It also makes good firewood and charcoal, and has a reputation for burning at high temperatures.

Beneficial uses:

Very good firewood;

Edible leaves, flowers and berries.

You could make fish-hooks out of the thorns.

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English Oak

The English Oak is probably the most well known tree across the UK. It’s also one of the most common. The ruling majesty of the woods, the wise old English oak holds a special place in our culture, history, and hearts. It supports more life than any other native tree species in the UK; even its fallen leaves support biodiversity.

These trees are massive not just in height (20-40m) but also in the spread of their branches. When these branches die and fall, they make for excellent fuel for fires, which are ideal for roasting foods. There are hundreds of types of oak tree, and all are pretty similar and all of which form acorns.

Acorns can be eaten (you will need to learn how to first) and will provide good calories.

Beneficial uses:

Excellent firewood (heartwood)

Edible nuts (Learn how to process/cook them properly)

Bark contains tannin (used for tanning hides).

Common beech

These are also very big trees, but they are very susceptible to disease and falling apart. This means a couple of things: Firstly do not camp underneath one. Secondly there should be a rich supply of firewood underneath. Mature trees grow to a height of more than 40m and develop a huge domed crown. The bark is smooth, thin and grey, often with slight horizontal etchings. The reddish brown, torpedo-shaped leaf buds form on short stalks and have a distinctive criss-cross pattern. Beech leaves are a great little food source after they emerge from buds. Beechnuts (Beechmast) are also edible nuts and provide great nutrition.

Beneficial uses:

Edible nuts and leaves

Very good firewood

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Scots Pine

Scots Pine is another majestic tree especially in the remnants of the ancient Caledonian forests. This is a very common and widespread tree, not only in the UK but right around the Northern Hemisphere. Like Silver Birch (first tree we looked at) this is a very useful tree to know, providing many things to a knowledgeable and able outdoorsman. Scots Pine can be differentiated from other conifers by its nature to spread more like a broad-leaved tree. This tree is one of the strongest softwoods available and a great building material. If you were making a fence, this type of wood is ideal.

Beneficial uses:

Source of Vitamin C. Try making pine needle tea.

Roots for bindings and tar.

Turpentine-infused wood for making feather-sticks.

Inner bark can be used for rope.

Dried cones can be used as kindling for fires.

Wild Cherry

This is another big tree growing up to 30m in height, with a dark reddish brown bark. The leaves are oval shaped with a pointed tip, they also have two red glands where the stalk meets base of the leaf. The flowers on the cherry tree are bright white and hang in clusters. After pollination these flowers then develop into cherries.

Beneficial uses:

Edible fruits.

Great fuel for fires and gives off scented smoke. Great to keep some bugs away.

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This is just a few of the trees that you would find. There is many more species you will find on your travels. You can't remember everything to start off, so I found a great little app you could download from the woodland trust, it's free and a great source of info.

Woodland Trust Tree ID app