AT THE controls of the Forestry Expo's huge machinery display were four alumni of Scotland's Rural College, demonstrating both the hi-tech harvesting capabilities of the machines on show, and the educational path that led them into those control cabs.

It was a proud moment for Martyn Davies, who recently took up his new role as Senior Forester within the SRUC's Integrated Land Management Department, and who is now conducting a 'root and branch' review of how to encourage more people into the industry.

Having watched the demos alongside the crowds at Elvanfoot, Mr Davies said that it was 'incredibly good' to see youngsters who had opted to take the SRUC's second year forestry mechanisation option showing off their skills in front of such a large audience of industry professionals.

But Mr Davies, who is based at SRUC’s Barony campus in Dumfries, was keen to point out that the 40 or 50 students who join the college's National Certificate in Forestry course every year were entering a sector that offers a wide variety of roles and specialisations: “Harvesting is the most visible aspect of the industry, but there are a huge number of job opportunities associated with it, from establishing the trees in nurseries, through planting them out in the countryside to managing those new woodlands and forests for decades before harvesting.

“It’s a long-term industry, with a spruce stand taking 40-50 years to mature. Some people can get emotional and say things like, ‘this tree’s been here my whole life’. That may be true, but they forget that the crop was planted for a reason," he said.

“Something else a lot people don’t realise is that one of the best ways to lock up carbon dioxide is in finished wood products. Even a shelf, for example, will retain a lot of CO2, while incorporating much more timber into construction markedly reduces the negative impacts associated with concrete."

Mr Davies pointed out that concrete is currently responsible for around eight per cent of global CO2 emissions – and if 'concrete was a country' it would be the world’s third-largest emitter after China and the USA.

Employing around 25,000 people and worth more than £1 billion a year, forestry already plays an important role in the Scottish economy – but Mr Davies said that attracting more people into the industry was now essential if the country was to achieve its 50-year vision.

“It’s an industry that’s all around us," he said. "Timber is used in everything from biomass boilers to cricket bats and everything in between, but we need to ensure that forestry continues to grow. SRUC and our students have a huge role to play in that and we’re relishing the challenge. It’s about growing a sustainable future."

SRUC’s Barony campus, which is home to state-of-the-art forestry simulators, offers National Certificates and Advanced Certificates in Forestry and Arboriculture.

In addition, SRUC has worked with Forestry and Land Scotland on the delivery of a Modern Apprenticeship in Trees and Timber. It is now working closely with Forestry and Land Scotland, Scottish Forestry and other industry partners to provide a new Modern Apprenticeship focused on forest machine operations.