Conifers for Colleges helping create foresters of the future

Conifers for Colleges helping create foresters of the future  
Date Published:

Northumberland College's Kirkley Hall Campus has become the first to launch Conifers for Colleges in the North East - a unique programme led by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) to ensure that the UK nurtures resilient and productive woodlands for future generations.

Conifers for Colleges recognises the risks that climate change, pests and diseases represent to woodlands, and the need for a wider range of tree species and a greater supply of skills. It highlights the importance of conifers to the UK forestry and timber industries while promoting research and education into alternative novel species.


RFS North Eastern Division Chairman John Monaghan 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."


 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.


Marcus Clinton, Principal and CEO of Northumberland College says:

"We are delighted to work in partnership with the Royal Forestry Society. Conifers for Colleges is a wonderful opportunity for Northumberland College students to get involved in an innovative programme and learn about nurturing UK woodlands for future generations. The RFS are bringing a wealth of knowledge to our Kirkley Hall campus and students will benefit greatly from opportunities at the forefront of forestry research and change."


The college has received 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. The project has support from across the forestry sector


Director of FC England Ian Gambles says: "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 home-grown timber."


Northumberland College's Kirkley Hall campus offers vocational courses and Apprenticeship training in a wide range of subjects including agriculture, horticulture and floristry, animal care and equine, arboriculture, countryside and environment and outdoor activity leadership.