RFS’s unique Conifers for Colleges programme has gone live with a launch at Moulton College in Northamptonshire and praise from across the forestry sector.
Conifers for Colleges recognises the risks that climate change, pests and diseases represent to woodlands, as well as the need for a wider range of tree species and a greater supply of skills to ensure that the UK nurtures resilient and productive woodlands for future generations.
Speaking at the launch, Director of FC England Ian Gambles described Conifers for Colleges as playing an important part in the forestry sector’s response to the challenge of resilience.
Launching the project, RFS President Sir Jack Whitaker says: “It’s time to recognise that conifer plantations are the engine-house of the UK forestry industry which employs 40,000 people and generates some £8bn of GDP – 90% of that can be attributed to conifers. Yet we still import 80% of our timber needs, and we are still felling conifers without replacing them.
“With the generous support of our sponsors, Conifers for College will raise the low awareness of this important resource, and opportunity, which should be contributing far more to our national economy.
“We need new species too. Our present ones, principally Sitka Spruce, Douglas Fir, Larch and Scots/Corsican Pine are vulnerable – already larch and the pines are in serious trouble from disease. So we must learn and experiment with new ones, and this exciting project brings together nurseries, colleges and students in finding a safer future for our industry.”
Ian Gambles added: “We must make our forests more resilient to the pest and disease threats we face now and the future challenge of climate change.
” For decades we limited our choices to just a few species, leaving our forests and timber supplies vulnerable. “Conifers for Colleges” is one important part of the sector’s response to the challenge of resilience, and I warmly welcome the initiative. This is a time of change where foresters and nurseries, including on our own public forest estate, are specifying a greater range of species and provenances for their stock.
“Diversification is the future and education is the key as we learn how to grow these trees in greater numbers to a high standard to secure a supply of homegrown timber.”
Moulton College Principal Stephen Davies says: “Moulton College is delighted to be part of the Conifers for Colleges programme. This demonstrates our commitment to working closely with the forestry industry, providing opportunities for students who will become future foresters and woodland managers, so initiatives like this mean they can gain valuable hands-on work experience, whilst contributing to our woodland heritage for future generations.”
The project will go live at four other colleges later this month: Coleg Gwent in Usk; Kirkley Hall, part of Northumberland College; Myerscough College near Preston and Plumpton College in East Sussex, bringing together specialist tree nurseries, forestry organisations and education establishments to research novel tree species novel tree species for future use within the industry.
Each college will receive 400 coniferous trees and 100 additional broadleaf trees donated by project sponsors 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 trees from damage donated byTubex.
In Year One the colleges are planting trial plots. Their research data in subsequent years will be widely available to woodland owners and managers over the coming years via the free-to-use database SilviFuture.
The project highlights the importance of conifers to the UK forestry and timber industries while promoting research and education into alternative novel species. The timber industry currently relies heavily on the big five timber species of Sitka Spruce, Douglas-fir, Scots Pine, Corsican Pine and the larches which currently account for 88 per cent of the UK’s timber crop. With current concerns around the resilience of some of these species, future generations of forestry and woodland workers need to look at building their knowledge of a greater range of species.
For Prees Heath Nurseries, David Gwillam says: “We are pleased to support the RFS. initiative to raise the profile of conifers and their importance in not only there commercial value but also the diversity they bring to wildlife.
Welcoming opportunities for the forest supply chain to become involved in the project Simon Place,Tubex UK, Sales Manager,says: “Tubex are proud and excited to be a sponsor of the Conifers for Colleges Project. The idea of involving young industry students and helping them to understand the importance of coniferous species diversification and future woodland resilience, is a very worthwhile project. Tubex is keen to follow the progress closely and assist where we can with our product range, while giving our support to the invaluable work of the Royal Forestry Society and their partners.”
Grant Murray, Sales Director, Alba Trees says: “We are delighted to be helping our industry look to the future and gather knowledge on new species for our woodland resource. We hope that our support of the Conifers for Colleges project will spread that knowledge and allow forestry students to develop their skills.”
For Cheviot Trees, Jonathan Cameron, Sales & Marketing Manager said: “Cheviot Trees are delighted to donate our cell grown trees to a project which enables hands on learning for the foresters of the future.”
For Silvifuture, Dr. Gabriel Hemery, Chief Executive, Sylva Foundation says: “With the challenges facing our forests – from climate change, pests and diseases, and the evolving needs of society – it is important that we support the sharing of knowledge about our tree species and their potential for the future.”
Grown in Britain Chief Executive Dougal Driver says: “Most of the wood we use in Britain is imported and our forest cover is pitiful when compared to Europe and the world, so we need to make much more of our woods and forests and get them all working to their maximum potential.
“Conifers and Colleges is a superb initiative that is highlighting the importance of our productive forests and the value they add to the economy, society and the environment and furthermore the great work of the Royal Forestry Society which is bringing these vital components of our natural capital, to the attention of the students that will be driving our world through the next 50 years. Grown in Britain is delighted to support this excellent initiative.”