Two recent grants from Woodland Heritage have helped in the development of teaching and training initiatives at the National School of Forestry. In this article, Ted Wilson outlines some of the projects currently underway and the future direction of forestry education.
The National School of Forestry, known widely by its location at Newton Rigg, in Cumbria, has earned a well-deserved reputation for excellence in professional and technical forestry education, stretching back over 40 years. Since 1998, the school has been part of the University of Central Lancashire, and with this change has come a greater emphasis on graduate, postgraduate and research provision. Our objective in the department is to target areas, such as continuous cover forestry and hardwood tree improvement, which are of current relevance to both the forest conservation movement and the forestry industry. Applied research and technology transfer are additional, and unique, priorities in our mission to help develop forestry practice in Britain and beyond. Thanks to financial support from Woodland Heritage we have managed to take forward a number of projects that integrate learning, teaching and research.
For several years the National School of Forestry has been developing a new range of courses and training opportunities. This has come about in response to changes in the education and forestry sectors. The School now offers an unparalleled range of courses, from short training courses in forestry skills, such as chainsaw and tree climbing, all the way through to the PhD in Forestry. The most popular courses are the part-time and full-time Foundation Degree (FDSc) and BSc (honours) in forestry. Students are looking for more tailor-made qualifications and so joint honours and combined courses with game and wildlife management, or recreation management are increasingly attractive. This gives our students more responsibility for choices and options, helping them achieve their own goals and ambitions. The majority of our students are looking for management and technical positions in conservation, government, or commercial areas offorestry. Newton Rigg, therefore, offers a unique educational environment where skills, academic training and work experience all go hand-in-hand to give our students a competitive edge in the job market.
Continuous Cover Forestry
Since 2002, the National School of Forestry has been developing a programme of professional and continuing education courses. So far, we have delivered courses in ancient tree management, native woodland conservation, and management of rare and endangered plants. Much of this work has been undertaken in partnership with other agencies or organisations. High on our list of priorities is the need to develop our capacity for training in continuous cover forestry. We realise that this must be done both for our current full-time and part-time students, just entering the forestry profession, and for those already established in their forestry careers. Woodland Heritage has been instrumental in supporting the following initiatives:
1. Certificate in Continuous Cover Forestry
This new qualification will be the first of its type in an English university. It is designed to complement the work of organisations such as the Continuous Cover Forestry Group who have been instrumental in hosting and delivering workshops on CCF for many years. The course will last for approximately 4 days and will include both theoretical and practical exercises. First delivery is planned for 2005, subject to a successful review and validation within the university.
2. Survey of Professional Forestry opinions about CCF
In winter/spring 2004 Peter Wood undertook a timely survey of professional foresters’ opinions about CCF. This was the first survey of its type, specifically looking at what foresters perceived CCF to be about, what are some of the key elements in CCF management. Significantly, the project also investigated the perceived barriers and training needs for CCF in Britain. The target group for the survey were all foresters, mostly with over 20 years’ experience in professional practice. Peter wrote up and successfully defended his work for his BSc (Honours) dissertation. The full results of this work are currently being written up for publication in the Quarterly Journal of Forestry. When asked to define the key components of CCF, the majority of respondents identified the philosophy of maintaining a continuous forest cover on the site and the need to sustain a diverse stand structure as being the defining concepts. Natural regeneration was seen as an important aspect of CCF systems, but was also an area perceived to be in need of more training and research. Other findings highlighted the general enthusiasm for CCF management in many parts of the country, and for a very wide range of species and forest types.
3. CCF Workshop
On 12 October 2004 we organised a CCF workshop. The theme was “Monitoring transformation” and was based at Wythop Woods, part of the Forestry Commission North Lakes CCF Trial Area. Gary Kerr, from Forest Research, introduced a new software package that is designed as a decision-support tool for transforming stands to CCF. Jon Bates and Gareth Browning, of the Forestry Commission, provided access to high quality Sitka spruce and Douglas fir stands for demonstrating the monitoring procedure. Rik Pakenham provided much appreciated insights from the private sector. This successful event was over-subscribed and will now form the template for a series of “roadshows” throughout 2005, as part of an emerging partnership between the Forestry Commission and the National School of Forestry.
4. Teaching and Learning
In addition to the above projects, we are developing our own educational software and training expertise. Some aspects of this were piloted in November 2004. A report on inventory techniques, co-authored with two students, will be published in early 2005.
The future of forestry education is a common subject for debate at the present time. Making forestry an attractive career, providing an enlightened educational environment and nurturing the next generation of foresters is very much a shared responsibility. New ideas about continuous cover forests are part of the evolution of the woodland landscape in Britain, now and for the foreseeable future. Thanks to Woodland Heritage, and a spirit of partnership, we are embracing the challenges with enthusiasm and vigour.