A unique Conifers for Colleges programme spearheaded by the Royal Forestry Society has gone live with a national 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.
It brings together specialist tree nurseries, forestry organisations and education establishments to research novel tree species for future use within the industry.
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.
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."
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.”
Director of FC England 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.”
Four other land-based colleges are also taking part:
Coleg Gwent in Usk
Kirkley Hall, part of Northumberland College
Myerscough College near Preston
Plumpton College in East Sussex
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.
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 by Tubex.
The research data from the Conifers for Colleges project will be widely available to woodland owners and managers over the coming years via the free-to-use SilviFuture database.