A day at the Royal Highland Show

Some thoughts from President, Wilma Harper

Wilma Harper

My first “professional” involvement with the Royal Highland Show was in the 1980s as a probationary Forest Officer 2 based in Perth district. It was our turn to do the Forestry Commission exhibit at the Show and my boss, Roger Larsen, tasked me with project managing our effort. The theme was biodiversity, although in those days...

... I think we called it nature and wildlife. Using the skills of our forest craftsmen and by calling in favours, we built a pond and surrounding woodland habitat with trees from the Tulliallan nursery, a hide borrowed from the Countryside Commission site at Battleby, live ducks from a local collection and stuffed animals from the Royal Scottish Museum.

I now attend the Highland Show in my role as a Trustee of Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards. The Royal Highland Show is very much an agricultural show, but the forestry sector is well represented, with Friday traditionally being “forestry day”. The forestry presence at the Highland Show stands out from afar with the two tall Douglas fir poles. People are entertained watching the skills in the Scottish Woodlands arena – pole climbing, mountain bike stunts, axe throwing and chainsaw carving.

One thing that gives the Friday a forestry focus is that for many years the presentation of Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards takes place at lunchtime. As a Trustee, my job on the day was to lay out the trophies and the cherry wood plaques and hand them to the Minister to present to the winners. The trophies themselves are interesting. They commemorate and recognise people or organisations with a significant role in forestry in Scotland. They are also superb examples of the wood carver and wood turners art.

This year we were in the Scottish Government marquee which was frankly a bit cramped and stuffy for the 100 or so guests, but the mood was buoyant in anticipation of the results. RSFS was instrumental in setting up Scotland’s Finest Woods as a separate entity in the 1980s and that link continues through Trustees, judges and entrants.

In recent years, the Awards have been presented by a Scottish Government Minister. In a busy programme for the day, they have made it one of their priority engagements. It is of course a good photo opportunity but talking to them, I’m sure it’s more that that. They genuinely enjoy hearing the stories captured in the summary of the winning entries and meeting the people behind such inspiring projects. It is an important way to showcase excellence across the huge range of activities in contemporary Scottish forestry with Ministers and others.

Once my duties at SFWA were done, I had a chance to wander round the Show and catch up with people. I was picking up that there had been a number of other “forestry day” events. Scottish Land and Estates had had a breakfast panel discussion with the Integrating Trees Network and later in the day a reception with NatureScot on farming with nature. Woodland Trust Scotland hosted an event with Soil Association Scotland and NFU Scotland to call on the Scottish Government to help enable farmers and crofters to integrate trees alongside food production. Another forestry event was the Shepherd & Wedderburn and Bidwells breakfast seminar in the President’s marquee. This was on the subject of integrating forestry with (particularly) upland agriculture. Ministers were much in evidence and an announcement from Scottish Government of a package of actions was generally welcomed, albeit with the usual caveats from people about what it might mean in practice.

RHS Collage

I suppose I took two themes from my random wanderings and conversations. Increased woodland creation and sustained management of woodlands is widely recognised as a priority. There is an awareness of the need for coordination and cooperation between sectors and interest groups but breaking down the structural and cultural barriers remains a challenge. Key to making this happen, and my second theme, is building up the workforce of people with the diversity of skills and competencies needed to make this happen. The prominence of Forestry and Land Scotland in the Lantra tent was just one indicator of this.

So where does RSFS sit in this landscape. As part of our educational charity remit with broad regional and industry contacts networks, we will be facilitating a programme of single subject CPD training days, delivered by recognised experts in their fields, on an agreed list of topics. It is intended to be complimentary to – not replacing – RSFS Regional Field Days and is not designed to be competitive with other forms of training provided by organisations such as the ICF, LANTRA, or the (hopefully soon to be established) Training Hub being set up by the Industry Leadership Group.

Sometimes it’s images that sum up an event. Whether you like the big forwarder or the new electric lorry, or the pole climbers, or the banner from Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards, my favourite is the Outdoor Woodland Learning OWL/Yoda as it’s the always the Schools and Early Years winners who stand out as the foresters of the future.

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