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From Africa to County Durham: Sylva Trophy Winner 2023

This year’s Sylva Trophy has been awarded to a forester whose career has impacted forestry practice from Africa and Indonesia to County Durham.

By Wendy Necar · October 17, 2023

Above: A lifetime’s commitment to forestry: Sylva Trophy 2023 Winner, Hamish Jeffrey  

Hamish Jeffrey’s early career took him from Ghana in West Africa to Liberia and Borneo.  When he returned to the UK, it was to County Durham where he was Head Forester for the late John Vane, 11th Baron Barnard ‘s Raby Estate for many years.

The Sylva Trophy is presented annually to recognise a person or organisation who, in the opinion of the RFS, has made an outstanding contribution to forestry in its broadest sense. It will be presented to Hamish by the current Lord Barnard at the RFS Excellence in Forestry Awards at Ushaw House in County Durham on October 26.

“Hamish was Head Forester at Raby for 25 years overseeing the management of the woodlands with dedication, skill and tenacity.  With his life-time commitment to forestry, I’m delighted that Hamish has been chosen as a worthy recipient of this prestigious award.”

“He was responsible for growing good quality timber in an estate context and at the same time being sensitive to environmental and landscape concerns,” Lord Barnard.

For Hamish, forestry was simply a career he had dreamed of as a teenager. He recalls helping forest teams in his school holidays. His first paid role was with the Forestry Commission on the Isle of Wight. There he gained the necessary experience to take a forestry degree at Gwydir College in North Wales.

When he qualified in 1968, the world opened to him and his wife Sonia, a zoologist. Hamish was posted to Ghana with Glisten and then to Liberia with an American based forestry company. He was later headhunted by Unilever, working in Borneo and offered a post in the Solomon Islands.

Hamish explains: “My main concern in both Ghana and Indonesia was the destruction of the forest. This may sound strange as I was there harvesting timber, but we were trying to establish a continuous cover type of forestry.

We had a 30-year programme, only felling one thirtieth per year, with the intention of relogging.  Unfortunately farmers moved into the concession and we were powerless to stop them. The soils would not sustain crops, and after about five years they had to move on having completely destroyed the forest… It saddens me now to see on Google earth that the entire concessions have been destroyed.”

Returning to the UK, Hamish turned his expertise to work in collaboration with Lord Barnard’s agent, RFS Past President Tommy Eade. He focussed on growing productive trees as part of the landscape and environment – a concept ahead of its time.

He managed the Estate’s sawmills and became an early exponent of the firewood market. He also mentored numerous individuals as they have explored and pursued forestry careers.

Among his many notable achievements was being responsible for Lord Barnard’s contribution of oak towards the restoration of York Minister following the fire there.

Post retirement, Hamish has remained involved in forestry. As a contractor he works on small estates and farms in small areas of woodland which would be of little interest to commercial contractors.  He also remains an active committee member of the RFS North Eastern Division.

Hamish Jeffrey receives the Sylva Trophy from Lord Barnard with RFS Chief Executive Christopher Williams, left, and RFS President Ben Herbert, right