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Coleg Gwent putting students in forefront of research
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Coleg Gwent in Usk is putting students in the forefront of research, becoming the first to launch Conifers for Colleges in Wales - a unique programme led by the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) to ensure that the UK nurtures resilient and productive woodlands for future generations.   

Monmouth MP David Davis joined students and staff at the planting at Coleg Gwent, and said: "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."

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From left, work based Environmental Conservation students Eleri Jenkins and Nicholas Lyons, lecturer Chris Knight, David Davies MP for Monmouth,  and Countryside Management students Edward Morgan and Connor Barrett 

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 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, 17,  from Aberbargoed, who said: “From clearing the area to setting up stakes for the trees, the project has given me great experience in land and woodland management. 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’ll be interesting to follow the progress of the trees we’ve planted.”

Conifers for Colleges is our flagship education and research programme, bringing colleges and students together with specialist forest nurseries and leading forestry suppliers.

It recognises the risks that climate change, pests and diseases represent to woodlands, and 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 says:" 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 College 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."

Conifers for Colleges was launched nationally on 5 November at Moulton College in Northamptonshire. Director of FC England, Ian Gambles praised the project for playing an important part in the forestry sector's drive for resilience. Full details and his talk and support for the project are available here.

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 From left: RFS Education Manager Phil Tanner with Coleg Gwent Work Based Environmental Conservation students Nicholas Lyons, Eleri Jenkins and Matthew Sowerby

Three other colleges are also launching Conifers for Colleges this year: Plumpton College in East Sussex, Northumberland College and Coleg Gwent in Usk.

Each college will receive 400 coniferous trees and 100 additional broadleaf trees donated by project. Research data from their planting plots will be widely available to woodland owners and managers over the coming years via the free-to-use database SilviFuture.

The project has been made possible thanks to 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.