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Conifers for Colleges

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The Royal Forestry Society educational and research project, Conifers for Colleges, brings together foresters of the future with specialist tree nurseries and industry experts.


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Conifers, have for some time received increasingly bad press within the general public. The historical use of a small selection of conifer species in British Forestry has led to 88% of conifer cover in the UK consisting of seven species.Seedlingplanting Conifesr Forcollegesmoultonlaunch Crfs 051114 Pt

Picea sitchensis (Sitka Spruce) 40%

Pinus nigra var maritima (Corsican Pine) 20%

Pinus sylvestris (Scots Pine) 12%

Pseudotsuga menziesii (Douglas fir) 8%

Larix decidua (European Larch), Larix kaempferi (Japanese Larch) and Larix x eurolepis (hybrid larch) combined 8%

Conifers currently represent a third (32%) of the 1302 thousand hectares of woodland cover in England. However, they are still recognised as being the life blood of the UK forestry industry with conifers represent 10.1 (95%) of the 10.6 million green tonnes of home grown wood products produced annually.

For some time the forestry sector has been growing increasingly concerned about the lack of variety within the tree species currently used for forestry. This has been further highlighted in recent years by issues such as climate change, pests and diseases. The effects of Dothistroma and Phytophthora ramorum on the seven conifer species in the UK had devastating effects on many of those who owned, managed, worked at or visited the sites.

The Royal Forestry Society knows that, work is needed to change the public perception of conifers in the UK and provide opportunities for research into a range of novel conifer species that have a potential to contribute to the development of the forestry sector.


The Royal Forestry was faced with the challenge of designing, developing and implementing a forestry programme that would achieve the following;

Aim: Improve the level of understanding around conifers while also providing a valuable forestry learning resource to improve the knowledge and skills of the forestry sector as a whole.


  • Raise awareness for the value both commercially and socially of conifers in the UK.
  • Provide forestry/arboriculture students with the opportunity to gain practical forestry learning opportunities.
  • Provide colleges with a forestry based onsite learning and research facility.
  • Research the potential of a range of new (novel) species for their value within the timber


In November 2013 the idea of Conifers for Colleges was first put before the Royal Forestry Society at the council meeting. The idea was met with a great deal of support at its inception and recently appointed education manager Phil Tanner was tasked with designing a suitable project.

December 2013 and the draft design was distributed to the RFS management committee and by January 2014 a plan had been agreed.

Firstly, five land based colleges would be approached by the RFS to agree the five plot sites. It was hoped that these sites would be spread across England and Wales. The colleges on signing up to the project would then allocate a section of land and agree any planting restrictions. If colleges do not have the land available the RFS division associated with that college will be approached and asked if any of its members have a suitable location.

The colleges who agreed to participate in the project are listed in order below;

Once the sites had been agreed with the college an autumn planting date would be agreed for the project completion. This proved to be one of the most difficult challenges of the project due to time constraints imposed by the academic year.

With each site and a potential date agreed the RFS would then contact its members and other timber industry organisations to look for nurseries or other associated industries to assist with the project. The project would rely on sponsorship from forest nurseries for its success as the RFS doesn’t have its own Nurseries.

RFS (Hon Sec North Midland Division) had on the day of the inception of the conifers for college’s ideaSirjackiangamblesdavidgwillamsimonplace Cforcsponsors Crfs 061114 (1) committed his support to the project. He committed to supplying the project with one thousand conifers; species would be agreed nearer the time of planting.

Simon Place, also an RFS member and UK sales Manager for Tubex contacted the RFS and committed to supporting the project with 2500 tree guards of a variety of different types and sizes.

John Weir of the Forestry Commission after discussions with the RFS promoted the conifers for college’s project on his linkedin page. From this Jonathan Cameron Contacted the RFS and on behalf of Cheviot Trees supplied 700 trees of seven different species. Shortly afterwards Grant Murray of Alba trees also contact the RFS and committed to supplying the project with another 700 trees of 7 different species.

The project now had all five sites agreed and 500 trees of 24 different species would be delivered to each college site in November 2014.

A launch date for the project was agreed and Moulton College offered to host the launch at their site. The Launch date was agreed for the 5th of November and Ian Gambles Forestry Commission England Director agreed to speak at the launch. On the day of the launch students, staff, sponsors, forestry professionals, guests and RFS members gathered at Moulton College. Sir Jack Whittaker welcomed all in attendance and thanked all those who had contributed to the project on behalf of the RFS. Steve Davies Moulton Colleges Principal then addressed the audience followed by Phil Tanner RFS Moultonsitemap Cforc Crfs 061114 PtEducation Manager and Dr James Littlemore Senior lecturer at Moulton College. The talks were concluded by Ian Gambles who provided all that were in attendance with a clear overview of the value of conifers and the need for work such as that being developed by the Royal Forestry Society.

David White an independent tree grower presented a further 100+ trees to be planted for research at the Moulton College site on the day of the Launch.

The day concluded with a visit to the planting site where students were busy planting the trees that had been provided while Dr James Littlemore provided an insightful tour which included the rationale behind the different spacing’s and groupings of the trees that had been provided.

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