The Royal Forestry Society

PUBLISHED: 11:24 19 January 2010 | UPDATED: 14:56 20 February 2013

Geoff Dalton, operator of the Cotswold Falconary Centre on the Batsford estate demonstrates the way barn owls hunt for mice and voles, helping to keep them under control, especially in young plantations

Geoff Dalton, operator of the Cotswold Falconary Centre on the Batsford estate demonstrates the way barn owls hunt for mice and voles, helping to keep them under control, especially in young plantations

The Royal Forestry society in the Cotswolds is celebrating an illustrious history, says Wendy Necar.

Professional foresters, woodland owners and tree enthusiasts in the Cotswolds are this year celebrating the 125th anniversary of the Royal Forestry Society.

The Society's Gloucestershire Division has a long and illustrious history. Today it has 166 members and every year its programme of events takes members to estates in the Cotswolds, throughout Gloucestershire and further afield. They not only have an opportunity to see woodlands which are not normally open to the public, but also to talk to and learn from the experienced men and women who look after them.

Members are amongst those who will be attending a special meeting of the RFS at Great Windsor Park, followed by a lunch and reception at the prize winning Savill Building attended by the Society's Patron, HM The Queen

John Ducker, who succeeded Michael Hartnell from the Batsford Estate, as chairman of the RFS Gloucester Division in October 2007, said: "The character of the Cotswolds is shaped, in part, by its woodlands which in turn have been cared for and developed by generations of woodland owners and foresters.

"Woodland owners have multiple and sometimes conflicting management objectives which incorporate nurturing stock, conserving ecological diversity and the beauty of important features in the landscape, accommodating public access and at the same time generating sufficient income through commercial operations to support the woodlands. RFS meetings provide valuable opportunities for sharing knowledge and experience in this complex task."

Each year one joint meeting is also held with the Royal Forestry Society's Herefordshire and Worcestershire Divisions. Together they make up the Three Counties Group which holds an annual Woodlands and Plantations Competition.

The Gloucestershire Division also has strong links to the Royal Agricultural College at Cirencester where it awards the Morely Penistan Prize, in memory of the noted Gloucester forester, to the student who achieves the highest mark in the Environmental Woodland Management module.

This year's meetings have been as varied as ever.

At Ley Park Wood, Blaisdon, the division was the guest of Lif and Oliver Marriott, who have owned the wood since 1999. The wood has a chequered history. In the 14th century it was largely oak. In 1937 it was bought in a run down condition and restored by Major Charles Ackers, a highly influential forester in his day, the author of Practical Forestry and President of the RFS from 1930 and 1931. He introduced ants to the woods and they continue to this day to provide aphid control.

In 1970, in the course of an aerial survey, Gloucestershire County Council identified a polygonal site in the wood. Although not yet fully researched, it is thought likely to be the remains of a medieval hunting lodge, a pre-historic settlement or a civil war camp-site.

At another meeting at the secluded Trafalgar Estate near Stow on the Wold, members were taken through the woods by Barton Venner, who has a long acquaintance with its woodland management. They then went to Windy Ridge, Longborough, to visit the Pilgrims Wood arboretum created by Cecil Williams since 1992 to celebrate 100 years of skilled workmanship by the Cotswold Craftsmen. Now under the supervision of Nicholas Williams, the arboretum has over 250 different species of tree collected from around the world and careful management decisions will be required to allow the larger trees room to grow without losing the fascinating variety which now characterises the place.

Many members in the Gloucester Division are leading lights not only in woodland and forestry management, locally and nationally. They include:

The Earl Bathurst, Divisional President, who owns Cirencester Park which has more than 1000 hectares of extensive woodlands divided by fine avenues, dating from the early 18th century.

Henry Elwes, Lord Lieutenant of the county and Vice President of the Division. Mr Elwes owns Colesbourne Park near Cheltenham, an estate with fine and varied woodland, incorporating a fascinating arboretum .

Major Tom Wills, also a Divisional Vice President and owner of Misarden Park ,a 17th century deer park, surrounded by extensive woodland amongst Cotswold hills.

John Workman O.B.E., probably the most respected forester of his time in Britain and donor of his fabulous woods at Ebworth and Sheepscombe to the National Trust .

Donald Randle, Divisional Vice President who founded the RFS RandleTravel Fund to provide bursaries to help forestry people of all ages to travel abroad to widen their forestry knowledge. This year it has been awarded to Lindsey Farquharson from Cheltenham.

Barry Wellington, a well respected tree nurseryman. Barry provides the presentation trees which are given by the division to each owner who opens their woodlands for visits.

John Josephi, a notable lecturer in forestry who has stimulated an abiding interest in the subject among many of the well known foresters that have passed through the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester.

The history of the Royal Forestry Society 1882 - 2007

Members were amongst those planning to attend a 125th anniversary meeting at Windsor Great Park and reception at the Savill Building in the presence of HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. The event has been postponed due to the outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease, but it is hoped that it can be re-arranged during 2008

The RFS was founded by working foresters and nurserymen at Hexham in Northumberland, in 1882 and the anniversary will be marked by the planting of a walnut tree by the Duke of Northumberland in the grounds of Hexham Abbey. The RFS President John Besent, the North East Division's chairman, William Salvin, and other members, will be present.

Indeed, at its inauguration, its aims were "the advancement of scientific and practical arboriculture in all its branches and the dissemination of knowledge of such branches of natural history as are connected with it."

Today the RFS has over 4,000 members, many of whom work as foresters and arboriculturalists. They also include land owners, estate managers, ecologists, students, academics, timber processors and people who love trees

The Society covers all of England, Wales and Northern Ireland through its 21 local divisions and has an established reputation, providing a forum for discussing all aspects of forestry and timber growing.

Each Division works actively to promote an understanding of sustainable woodland management through an annual programme of more than 100 outdoor talks and visits to estates, woods and other places of interest such as timber merchants and companies selling woodfuel for heat generation.

The Royal Forestry Society also owns and manages three very different woodlands

Hockeridge and Pancake Woods at Ashley Green near Berkhamsted in the Chilterns contains sixteen tree species grown commercially in a 74 hectare (180acre) woodland. These woods are open to the public and contain a wide variety of habitats and wildlife and have been awarded a Forestry Authority Centre of Excellence Award.

The RFS is actively involved in developing the National Forest. It owns a 47 hectare area of former farmland at Battram in North West Leicestershire which, since May 1998, has been planted with more than 80,000 saplings, from English oaks and yews, to cricket bat willows, fast growing poplars and a group of rare native Black Poplar.

Battram incorporates open spaces and rides and there are plans to start work later this year on a large pond in a project which will involve local school children. Battram, is open to the public and is now well on its way to becoming model multi-benefit woodland - a flagship wood which will help guide future generations to develop profitable woodlands in crowded lowland Britain

A third woodland in mid-Wales near the town of Welshpool contains a cathedral-like stand of towering Coastal redwoods from California and a pinetum. Some of the redwoods are around 150 years old and are therefore some of the oldest examples of this species in the country.

There is also a chalet there, handcrafted from locally-grown timber, and winner of the prestigious Timber Trades Award for the best use of softwoods out-of-doors nationwide in 2002. The property is only open to members but the RFS offers organised group tours.

Throughout its history the Society has been recognised for its expertise and has sat on, and continues to be represented on, many bodies considering issues of current concern to foresters, such as deer management and wood use. It was also amongst those who helped to influence the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919.

Whilst its woodland visits, annual conference and seminars enable informal sharing of knowledge , the RFS was one of the first organisations to recognise the need for professional qualifications and developed industry leading qualifications which have now become the Professional Diploma in Arboriculture and the Certificate in Arboriculture, and taken by around 300 (John Jackson to confirm) students across the country each year.

Students and recent graduates are encouraged to attend conferences and to carry out research abroad through a series of bursaries and awards offered by the RFS

At its headquarters in Tring, Hertfordshire, the RFS maintains an impressive library of works on trees and woodlands as a learning resource for its members. Since 1907 it has also published the Quarterly Journal of Forestry, containing papers on every subject, from carbon issues in forestry, to the recording of the nation's veteran trees.

A regular e-mail newsletter keeps members up to date with development in trees and forestry in the UK and abroad.

While the RFS has never sought to become a lobby organisation or a pressure group, it is keen to promote the benefits of woodland management and is consulted by government and NGOs.

Dr John Jackson, the Society's Chief Executive, says: "There is widespread public interest in conservation and the countryside, but people do not always appreciate that the woods and forests they admire look the way they do because they are well-managed."

"Left alone, woodland quickly becomes overgrown, and as the tree canopy spreads and keeps light from reaching the forest floor, so plants such as bluebells and primroses start to decline, as well as other creatures such as butterflies. Most of our woodlands were planted by man and managed to produce wood as crops for centuries, with regular activities such as coppicing, thinning and felling, which need to be continued if they are to maintain their beauty and biodiversity."

The Royal Forestry Society is also an active supporter of the ' Forester's Charity', Tree Aid whose projects have included one to establish a tree nursery in Sudan and another to replant community woodlots on escarpment areas of Tanzania to combat dry land degredation or desertification..

For more details about the Royal Forestry Society and its local divisions visit, telephone the Tring headquarters on 01442 822028 or email . For more information on Tree Aid visit

Tree facts

Trees play a central part in all our lives

They provide fuel and food; they have formed wind breaks and marker points in landscapes across the centuries; their presence has often been associated with ancient religious and ceremonial celebrations; and, as a crop, they continue to provide the raw materials for the building, furniture, paper and many other industries.

The names of many of our towns, villages and farms bear witness to the presence of particular species of trees and their longevity and their beauty continues to astound.

Facts and figures about our trees and woodlands are numerous and include:

  • . Dendrochronology is the science of dating trees from their rings. Tree rings can provide precise information about environmental events including volcanic eruptions

  • Britain's oldest tree is probably the Fortingall Yew in Tayside, which is believed to be over 3000 years old.

  • Yew wood can even outlive iron. A 250,000 year old spear found at Clacton in Essex is one of the world's oldest known wooden artifacts

  • Britain is thought to have the largest population of 'ancient' trees in Europe.

  • Yew leaves may help in the treatment of cancer; a drug called Taxol can be produced from them.

  • Yew is sometimes referred to as Hampshire weed or 'Snotty -gogs' for its berries

  • A fully-grown Oak in the UK grows - and sheds - 250,000 leaves every year and produces around 50,000 acorns in a good year.

  • A healthy mature Birch tree can produce up to 1 million seeds in a good year.

  • A commercial size aspen trunk in Canada is made into about a million matchsticks.

  • Norway spruce has become known as the Christmas tree ever since Prince Albert and Queen Victoria introduced an old German custom of hanging lights and decorations on a tree at Windsor Castle in 1841. The practice of tree dressing across Europe to mark the winter solstice is much older.

  • Broadleaved trees change colour in the autumn because the green chlorophyll in leaves breaks down and is reabsorbed by the tree allowing the other leaf pigments to show through before the leaf is shed.

  • Butterflies have often adapted to living in managed woodland. In parts of England, the Fritillary butterflies have become associated with man-made coppice systems.

  • Tree fruits are designed to be dispersed, so many berries are red, as this is a preferred food colour of birds.

  • The world's rarest trees are endemics of remote islands, some known only from single wild specimens, such as the St Helena Olive. Britain's own endemic trees include the Bristol Whitebeam (Sorbus bristoliensis) which only grows naturally in the Avon Gorge.

  • The height above sea-level at which trees cannot grow is called the treeline. This changes with latitude and in the Alps is approximately 2133m (7000ft) whilst in North Wales it is 557m (1820ft).

  • It takes approximately 2 tonnes of timber to make 1 tonne of paper. The calorific value of 2 tonnes of timber is the same as 1 tonne of coal.

  • 'Ac' was old English for oak tree and many place names such as Accrington in Lancashire and Acle in Norfolk reflect their association with oak

  • On the High Weald in Kent and Sussex a name ending in 'denn or 'den' comes from the old English for wood pasture

  • 'Holt' or 'hot' comes from the old English for a wood and 'hurst 'from 'hyrst' for a wooded hill

  • 'Thwaite' is from the Norse for a clearing in the forest. The ending 'leigh' meant the same in Anglo Saxon.

  • Sitka spruce is named after the old Russian capital of Alaska and was introduced to Britain in 1831. It has subsequently become our most widely planted forest tree

  • European larch was introduced to Britain in 1620 from the mountains of central Europe and became the tree of choice for the first British forestry plantations on the Duke of Atholl's Perthshire estates in the mid eighteenth century

  • The drove roads across the Welsh borders used Scots pines as waymarkers

  • Oak Apple Day, May 29, is the anniversary of the triumphant return of Charles II to London at the restoration in 1660. Charles had originally escaped by hiding in an oak tree at Boscobel.

  • Graffiti in beech trees goes back to Roman times when there was a proverb for it : 'As these letters grow, so may our love'

  • Sweet Chestnut trees were probably introduced to Britain by the Romans. The chestnuts were roasted, included in other foods and ground down to provide a flour for the legionaries

  • Alder - sometimes known as Aller or Waller or Wallor - was chiefly used for making clogs and gunpowder. Its wood does not rot under water and it has also been used to shore up river and canal banks.

  • Hornbeam is also known as hardbean in East Anglia and as ironwood elsewhere because of the hardness of the wood. It was chiefly used for charcoal and a wood fuel

  • The name cobnut derives from a game which involved pitching a larger hazel nut at a pile of smaller ones. Those knocked off the pile became the property of the thrower

  • Pollen deposits reveal that around 6,000 years ago the most common tree in Britain were the small leafed limes .

  • Lime trees are also known as the Linden tree from the Anglo Saxon Linde and many towns and villages such as Lyndhurst and Linwood in the New Forest bear testament to its presence in a by gone age.

  • The leaves of holly have one of the highest calorific value of any tree browsed by animals. Holly was regularly fed to stock - especially sheep - up until the 18th century and is occasionally still used as fodder today

  • In many parts of the country it is considered bad luck to fell a holly tree

  • The most common ancient holly name is the Middle English ' Hollin' and it often crops up in place names e.g. Hollingbourne in Kent

  • The Horse Chestnut is native to the Balkans and its fruits are usually known as 'conkers' although in some areas they are referred to as 'Cheggies' or 'Obblyonkers' and its distinctive sticky buds are occasionally refered to as 'Cackey monkeys'.

  • The first record of a game of conkers comes from the Isle of Wight in 1848

  • Maple was the favoured wood for harps. A maple harp was unearthed from a Saxon barrow at Taplow in Berkshire and another from the Sutton Hoo ship burial at Suffolk

  • Probably the most celebrated sycamore tree in the UK is the Martyr's Tree on the Green at Tolpuddle, Dorset under which the Tolpuddle 'rebels' would meet and talk in the 1830s.

County Tree facts

East Anglia

The creeping larch of Henham Hall( now demolished)in Suffolk is only 2.7metres high with a girth of less that 3metres, but its crown spreads 26 metres north to south and 13 meters east to west.

Pines planted as hedges and shelter banks during the enclosure of the Breckland in the nineteenth century were known as ' Deal Rows'

Staverton Park in Suffolk has a preserved medieval wood-pasture with around 4,000 oak pollards between 200-500 years old.,


Pine marked fields where drovers could rest cattle on their way to market were known as Halfpenny Fields.


A yew in Shining Cliff Wood near Ambergate is thought to be the inspiration for the children's nursery rhyme ' Rock-a-bye-baby'. A family used to live in the tree and out of one of the boughs was hewn out a cradle.


Wood cut from pollarded and coppiced beeches used to be shipped up to London by barge (which canals or on River Thames etc) for the city's hearths and ovens

The Windsor chair industry (which used turned beech for chair legs), led to the conversion of vast areas of beech coppice and pollard to timber beech, especially in the Chilterns. The industry was based at High Wycombe


The Frithsden Beeches on the Ashridge Estate at Berkhamsted include the 'Praying Beeches ' and are one of the finest surviving groups of ancient pollards - and bear graffiti carved by Victorians through to American servicemen


The Tortworth Chestnut in Gloucesershire is thought to be the largest of its species in the UK. Standing next to St Leonard's church a plaque records the fact that it was thought to be 600 years old in 1800.

A lime stool at Silk Wood next to Westonbirt Arboretum consists of 60 trees growing in a 48m diameter. DNA fingerprinting has shown that they are all genetically identical having originated from a parent tree which would have originally been in the centre of the circle. It is thought to date back at least 2000 years

Cotswold woods

The Cotswolds are known for a variety of fine woodlands, many of which have very ancient origins.

Beech grows particularly well due to the calcareous (chalky) nature of the soils and has long been a significant feature of the Cotswold landscape and the beech woods at Badminton, Cirencester Park and Kingscote are of particularly fine quality and are registered sources of beech seed. (All beech and oak seedlings must be grown from registered stands of high quality trees).

Along with the beech, ash grows prolifically. As approaches to forestry management have changed and markets for the different types of timber evolved, conifers have also been planted, either as pure stands or as "nurse" trees to help broadleaf seedlings become established. Today, there is probably less planting of conifers and greater interest in restoring old woodlands to the native species which characterised them in the past. With the prospect of climate change, there is also increasing interest in managing woodland to conserve moisture and forest cover.

The Cotswolds are also home to a number of interesting arboreta. The most notable is that at Westonbirt, now managed by the Forestry Commission, which is open to the public. Others include an interesting young arboretum at Longborough created by Cecil Williams since 1992, which now contains 260 species of tree from around the world. There is also a fine collection of trees at Colesbourne Park, assembled from around the world principally in the nineteenth century.

Elsewhere in Gloucestershire, the Forest of Dean has a complex history. In the past there was fierce competition for land and timber between commoners, who wanted to graze animals although they damage young trees and prevent natural regeneration; miners, who wanted timber to support their pit roofs; iron-makers, who needed large quantities of small timber for charcoal production; the Navy, which wanted a steady supply of strong timber for ships hulls, masts and spars, and landowners who wanted to sell timber into the rising construction market.

Today, the Forestry Commission manages much of the Forest of Dean and grows a mixture of broadleaves and conifers for varied markets. There are some fine oak stands in the Forest, some of them the result of planting for the Navy after the Napoleonic Wars, not long before wooden ships were replaced by iron and steel.

The Wye Valley has perhaps a greater variety of trees, and includes much ash . Many of the woodlands are ancient and grow on the steep valley sides.

In the Severn valley there are woodlands at Berkeley dating from Norman times. Frampton-on-Severn, Badminton and many other local estates also have trees of great antiquity.

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