FACED with having to cancel its busy programme of field visits and training workshops – and its annual study tour – the Royal Scottish Forestry Society has been working on other projects to support its mission as the leading practical forestry society in Scotland.

Speaking to The Scottish Farmer, RSFS president Nander Robertson said: “We are rightly proud of our society’s heritage; it is what the society and its members do now that ensures its continuing value to future generations. We aim to preserve the best of the past, support ongoing delivery of education, provide access to practical experience and promote the enjoyment of forests and woodland management.”

The society was founded in 1854 and continues to deliver forestry education through several channels to this day. In 1884, it co-hosted an International Forestry Exhibition in Edinburgh, which was attended by more than 500,000 visitors and is remembered as its first 'study Day'. The title Royal was conferred by Queen Victoria in 1887 following a visit to Balmoral for the society’s first ever Annual Study Tour, which have taken place near continuously ever since, except in years of war. Unfortunately, the 2020 tour has had to be postponed due to the Coronavirus lockdown.

In 1996, the RSFS decided to create a native working Scottish forest located within the Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, and Cashel, a 1,200 ha hill farm rising from shore level to 580 metres, was acquired with a Millennium grant. Between 1997 and 2005 around 300ha of native broadleaves and Scots Pine were established, together with a path network to encourage public access and enjoyment. This burgeoning forest now hosts many other activities, and mirroring the dynamics of the growing woodland, the Cashel Forest Trust is looking at developing the site further.

In the past three years, the RSFS has established the Monitor Woods Scheme to create a record of the husbandry and silviculture of exemplar forests and woodlands. Data sets are being accumulated in its newly developed 'Canopy' toolkit, which is now available online, with an ambition of accumulating 100 years of data for future generations to study and research about planting regimes, species, husbandry techniques, etc. This project began with financial support from Forestry Commission Scotland and continues with Scottish Forestry, which is an associate member.

Work is also afoot to establish an Education Fund to provide bursaries to student foresters., as the society recognises the particular challenges faced by those changing careers to become foresters and is working with the education bodies to support that group.

In 2020, the society will be republishing one of the most influential forestry books of the 20th Century ‘Tall Trees and Small Woods’, originally written by Dr W E S (Bill) Mutch OBE FRSE FICFor, a former editor of Scottish Forestry, and now extensively updated. The aim is to present all forestry students in Scotland with a copy in Autumn 2020.

The society is actively considering developments relevant to the next generation. In particular, it is exploring how it can:

• Digitise its educational resources to support on-line learning for young people and schools at all levels;

• Digitise its journal Scottish Forestry to provide keyword access to its entire journal archive now and in the future;

• Capture Study Days, the Annual Study Tour, and to run Digital Study Days to be able to engage with the global audience;

• Leverage Monitor Woods content to help shape future husbandry techniques around the world;

• Increase the reach and scale of its Education Fund and establish an Innovation Fund;

• Promote in the sector the use of digitisation and artificial intelligence that has emerged in other husbandry-based sectors in recent times.

"The next 166 years promise to be as exciting and full of change as the past 166 years," said Mr Robertson. "We pride ourselves in being accessible to all who love our forests, woods and trees. Help us to reach out to the future."

This story first appeared in The Scottish Farmer.

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