Future Foresters – challenged to drive a technology revolution

by | Oct 27, 2017 | Featured Slider, News, Technical

Forestry and arboricultural students have been challenged to  drive a technological revolution to transform the way woods and trees are managed in the UK. Key note speaker at the ground breaking RFS’s Future Foresters New Technology Day, Jez Ralph from Timber Strategies told them: ” There is a new future and it is digital and it is going to come very fast. You are the people who will take up that challenge. Part of it is understanding the past, understanding the history of timber use and then taking that further.”

“Being able to use digital skills is as much a forestry skill as any traditional technique.”

Talking about the increasing complexities of forestry as it becomes more three dimensional – multi age, multi species and multi provenance – Jez said forestry in the UK has been lagging behind other sectors, but that that is changing. A revolution in the industry is being fuelled by developments in robotics, data acquisition, scanning, acoustic, sonic and microscopic technologies as they become cost effective to use in the field.

Those entering the sector today, he said, need to make sure that the high tech opportunities that exist across planning, planting, harvesting and using timber are fully realised so the UK has a thriving sector of locally sourced and technology enabled timber supplies that meet the precise needs of end users.

With technologies making it easier and quicker to measure woodlands, Dan Ridley-Ellis from Edinburgh Napier University, one of the UK’s top specialist in assessing timber strength, reminded the audience that while trees are very good at making wood, quality timber is a collaboration between tree and forester.”

But he said, is not just about the gadgets but the application of the data. If you are not using the available date efficiently then you are wasting information and may well be wasting some of the value of the timber you have available.

The Technology Day conference was  the first national conference for forestry and arboicultural students. Held by the RFS in partnership with Sorbus International and Stihl and hosted by Moulton College in Northamptonshire, it attracted more than 200 students, recent graduates and apprentices from 10 organisations across the country. Twenty five companies and organisations provided hands on exhibitions and demonstrations from drone technology to the latest in chippers and from computerised callipers to innovations in climbing harnesses.

Phil Wade from Sorbus International described how new tree assessment technologies – such as sonic and electrical resistance tomography – are enabling better decisions to be made. Technology, he said, can be viewed as ‘tree saving devices’ giving detailed data which can more accurately inform decisions on whether to retain or fell a tree on grounds of health and structural integrity.

Jonas Wikner from Haglof described how the company is focussed on developing solutions that reduce the need for pen and paper in the forest – innovations such as computerised callipers that download data direct from the forest to office reports, to speed up the process of measuring woodlands.

On a practical level, Nick Pott from arbjobs.com told the students how the skills sets demanded by employers for  both forestry and arboriculture careers are changing. He said: “My advice to you is to get into the scientific stuff to get ahead. The industry has moved so quickly in the past 25 years, and that is only going to speed up.”

And speaking specifically to the arboricultural students he said : “You need to stand out from the loppers and choppers, to demonstrate to your clients a level of knowledge and evidence that they can rely on.”

RFS Future Foresters Officer Adam Todd said: “There is a real buzz about forestry and arboriculture today. New technologies are impacting on the way we plan, plant, harvest and market our woodlands and our timber.

“Our Future Foresters Technology Day proved just how exciting a sector this is for those coming into it and our thanks go to our speakers and to the 25 exhibitors who have been so enthusiastically engaged with so many students. The future for our sector is looking very positive.”

For Arboriculture Lecturer Adam Sharman from Moulton College: “It was a simply fantastic, day to see so many students listening to the opportunities that exist within the sector, take part in the demonstrations and to hear about possibilities that open their eyes to what they may be able to achieve.”  

Winners of a Haglof DP II computer calliper mensuration system, generously donated by Haglof was  Bangor University for its submission on “The impact of advancing technology on Future Foresters”.