The National School of Forestry on the International Scene
Ted Wilson, formerly National School of Forestry
The pioneering Canadian educator and engineer, Professor Ursula Franklin, described professional foresters as “citizens with a toolkit”. This elegant definition recognises that foresters, within our society, have developed a unique set of skills and knowledge that can be applied to address challenges in the management of forest resources. But citizenship can be viewed in an even wider context, where we are part of a closely inter-connected network of plants and animals that inhabit the global community.
Forested ecosystems transcend national boundaries. They are shaped by climate, and soils, and biogeography. However, the way we manage forests varies from one country to another, and is a reflection of different national priorities or relationships with woodland. As W. H. Auden said, “A culture is no better than its woods”. For this reason, international experience is an important part of any professional forestry education.
In this respect, 2005 was a notable year for everyone connected with the National School of Forestry. From our base at Newton Rigg, in Cumbria, increasing opportunities have been developed to facilitate student study / work abroad. Reciprocally, we welcomed a steady stream of international students, representing forestry schools in Austria, Czech Republic and Canada.
The most significant event of the year was our study tour to the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Both are densely wooded countries compared with Britain and our aim was to learn about their approaches to forest conservation and management. Among the many highlights were large-scale programmes to restore woodlands in industrial areas, the recovery of mountain forests damaged by acid rain and the adoption of “close-to-nature” silvicultural systems. Perhaps most impressive was the emphasis on“value-added forest products” and the efforts by local communities to manage their woodlands, after decades of state control – sure evidence of a deep and enduring forest culture.
In addition to group travel, several staff and students undertook individual projects overseas. For me, the major event was participation in a conference on forestry education in Ottawa, Canada. This event focused on the decline in forestry as a university course. It is hard to imagine that Canada, with its vast woodland area, is approaching a crisis in forestry education. It’s an uncomfortable parallel with what we are experiencing in the UK. Young people, from mainly urban backgrounds, are simply choosing to study other, more “attractive” subjects.
The conference concluded with some proposed strategies for reversing the decline in recruitment to the forestry profession. Apart from better marketing and cooperation between stakeholders within the sector, the most important outcome was a call for a stronger emphasis on forests, ecology and conservation in school curricula.
The natural environment has never been more important in our lives. Living in harmony with our natural resources is clearly an imperative. As in Canada, here in Britain we are slowly waking up to the potential consequences of global climate change and depletion of the world’s natural resources. Foresters have a more important role than ever. As long-term thinkers and conservationists, we need to redouble our efforts as global citizens to facilitate change in society’s relationship with forest ecosystems.
With a wider appreciation of the benefits of woodland, we will hopefully see a resurgence in recruitment to the forestry profession and encourage a richer forest culture, closley integrated into mainstream society.
Several reports in this year’s Woodland Heritage Journal are authored by Newton Rigg forestry students. It is re-assuring to see these professionals-in-training equipping themselves with the skills and knowledge – packing the “toolkit” – ready for the global forest challenges of the future!
National School of Forestry