Coleg Gwent is putting students at the forefront of research, becoming the first in Wales to launch Conifers for Colleges in Wales – a unique programme led by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) to ensure the UK nurtures resilient and productive woodlands for future generations.
Conifers for Colleges recognises the risks that pests and diseases represent to woodlands, alongside 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 Education Manager Phil Tanner said:
“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 Colleges 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.”
Monmouth MP David Davies joined students and staff at the planting at Coleg Gwent’s Usk Campus.
“This is excellent news for students at Coleg Gwent who will get hands on experience of cultivating new tree varieties which could drive forward the rural economy,” he said.
“I would like to pay tribute to Chris Knight and the staff at Coleg Gwent who have made this happen.”
Chris Knight, Head of Forestry and Countryside Management lecturer at Coleg Gwent, said:
“We are delighted to be the first college in Wales to join the Conifers for Colleges project. The chosen site, a former FC Wales plantation trial plot which has suffered extensively from squirrel damage, will lend itself well to monitoring how these alternative conifer species will perform on former agricultural land.
“It’s a fantastic experience for our students to be at the forefront of current research in this area as many of them will go on to be future land managers and mangers of British woodlands.”
Amongst those planting the trees was Countryside Management student Connor Barrett, aged 17, from Aberbargoed.
“From clearing the area to setting up stakes for the trees, the project has given me great experience in land and woodland management,” he said.
“I’ve really enjoyed learning about tree work and have even got a job at a tree care company through the skills I’ve gained at college. It will be interesting to follow the progress of the trees we’ve planted.”
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.
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 project has support from across the forestry sector.