Coleg Gwent in Usk is the first college in Wales to take part in an innovative new venture being led by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) to keep coniferous trees on the map for the woodland managers of the future.
Conifers for Colleges recognises that the challenges caused by climate change, pests and diseases mean UK timber growers may no longer be able to rely on the traditional big five coniferous timber species – Sitka Spruce, Corsican Pine, Scots Pine, Douglas-fir and the larches. Foresters of the future will need to know about a wider mix of species and where they are likely to grow best.
Coleg Usk joins Kirkley Hall, part of Northumberland College, Moulton College in Northamptonshire, Myerscough College near Preston, and Plumpton College in East Sussex.
Working with RFS Education Manager Phil Tanner, staff from Coleg Usk are looking forward to receiving 400 coniferous trees made up of 18 different species and 100 additional broadleaf trees donated by Alba Trees in East Lothian, Cheviot Trees Ltd of Berwick on Tweed, and Prees Heath Nurseries of Whitchurch, Shropshire and 500 tree guards to protect damage donated by Tubex.
The research data from the Conifers for Colleges project will be made widely available to woodland owners and managers across the UK over the coming years via the SilviFuture database.
An area for the research plot on the Coleg Gwent campus has already been identified. Head of Forestry and Countryside Management lecturer, Christopher Knight, describes it as a unique opportunity for FE students studying L3 Extended Diploma in Countryside Management and L2 Work Based Diploma in Trees and Timber at Usk Campus Coleg Gwent.
L3 and L2 students will start preparing the site in September 2014 as part of their woodland management practical work and will carry planting in the forthcoming season.
Christopher Knight says: “The chosen site, a former FC Wales plantation trial plot which has suffered extensively from squirrel damage, will lend itself well to monitoring how these alternative conifer species will perform on former agricultural land.
“Usk has recently celebrated its centenary year in delivering land-based education and we look forward to continuing to contribute to the training of land managers and the management of British woodlands in the future.
RFS Education Manager Phil Tanner explained: “Students will be involved in planting and monitoring the development of the trees annually, and in developing a variety of research projects, making the information freely available on the SilviFuture database so that woodland owners and managers across the UK will be able to access the information to see what trees might be compatible with their growing conditions.
“The project is providing a unique opportunity for the students involved to get first-hand knowledge of species about which many within the current forestry industry know very little – and it will mean they will be exceptionally well placed when they qualify to help ensure the UK’s timber industry flourishes.
“The RFS will also be publishing the research data and we are keen for more nurseries and others within the industry to get involved in this exciting opportunity to help shape our commercial woodlands for the future.”