The Royal Scottish Forestry Society

...for those who love the forests, woodlands and trees of Scotland

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About Us

The Society has a rich history, vibrant membership and bright future. In this area of the website you will find information on who we are, where we have come from and how to take part in our community.


In Education 

 The need to know how to raise, plant, sustain and protect trees, and to make their products available for use has existed from time immemorial. The need persists because techniques continually develop and change. The Society’s first president’s writings set an example and a standard. Journal articles over the years have described many practical innovations.

While visits by school parties to woodlands are of long standing, over the last 15 years, the Society promoted ‘teacher packs’ for teacher-led planned woodland visits. These were designed to relate to schools’ contemporary science and environment syllabuses, and at the same time encouraging children to appreciate and feel comfortable in woodlands and forests.

Many of the founding members of the Society considered that standards of forest practice would be improved if there were formal training facilities, rather than men learning on the job. The subject was discussed in 1867, and is a recurring talking point though with little initial achievement.

Pressure to set up education and training of foresters was formally discussed in 1881. Dr Cleghorn, President in 1873 and 1874, was familiar with contemporary developments in forestry in India and described the practices to Society members. A school of engineering opened up at Cooper’s Hill, Egham, Surrey at this time, specifically to prepare men for service in India. Forestry was part of the curriculum.

Between 1875 and 1886 pressure for forestry training was maintained, leading to a petition to Parliament. The Society’s journals report at length the consequent proceedings of the Parliamentary Select Committee examinations of the proposals. Its report was prepared, only for the day for the debate in 1886 to be lost due to the premature dissolution of Parliament. The area of Scotland estimated as potentially plantable at that time was over 3 million acres (1.2 million hectares) of land.

In 1882, plans were mooted to hold an International Forestry Exhibition, jointly with the Highland and Agricultural Society.[14, 15] Profits from the exhibition were to be put towards funding a forestry school at Edinburgh University. The Exhibition opened in 1884 in the grounds of Donaldson School, Edinburgh. During the three months it was open half a million people attended. However, while there was a surplus, it was not enough to fund a forestry school at Edinburgh. Figures 1 and 2 are from engravings of the site.

Notwithstanding these setbacks, formal forestry education in Scotland commenced in October 1889 with a course of 100 lectures given by Dr William Somerville. [16]

This advance was, however, considered inadequate without the back-up of an area of forest readily accessible to lecturers and students for field work to complement the lectures. In 1900, a deputation met the Parliamentary President of the Board of Trade requesting university forest areas, but received a non-committal response. At the same time, small grants were made to Edinburgh University to support work on education, research and technical advice. [17]

These representations, and the change in perceptions and needs brought about by the 1914-18 war, eventually led to University Chairs of Forestry being created, one at Edinburgh in 1919 and one at Aberdeen in 1926.

These two Universities turned out forestry graduates who, together with graduates from forestry schools at Bangor and Oxford (Empire Forestry Institute - latterly Commonwealth Forestry Institute), provided forestry managers for forests in Britain and overseas - especially in the British colonies while these existed (Colonial Forest Service) and subsequently in Commonwealth countries. Latterly, the universities trained students from those countries alongside students from the UK.

Most recently, developments in plant genetics and in environmental sciences have been accompanied by substantial reductions in job opportunities in the UK for forestry graduates. As a consequence, university departments and syllabuses have evolved, and many exclusively Forestry departments have disappeared.

More formally, the Society has been involved in setting standards and associated exams. For example, the Central Forestry Examination Board for Woodman Certificates, National Diploma in Forestry was set up jointly in (about 1948) with the Royal Forestry Society of England and Wales. More recently, these have been reviewed in the context of harmonisation of vocational qualifications within the European Community.

In Conservation

Perhaps unexpectedly, the early records of the Scottish Arboricultural Society, show that in 1868-1872, members were concerned about ‘The effects of forests on climate’ and approached the British Council for the Advancement of Science to discuss a project on this topic. [18] See also Table 1. 110 years later, environmental issues, both climatic and aesthetic, came increasingly to the fore and have materially altered the syllabuses taught at universities.

In post-war management of land, proposals for development came into the local planning authority sphere of interest. However, in the 1947 Town & Country Planning Act, afforestation was excluded from planning control. Nevertheless, changes in the landscape frequently provoked objections, whether based on loss of cherished views and landscapes, loss of habitat and associated plant and animal communities, or loss of access etc.

In the second half of the 20th century, statutory bodies such as Scottish Natural Heritage, local authorities seeking increased planning control, voluntary bodies such as RSPB and the Ramblers Association and many more, have sought to have a voice to influence changes linked to forestry programmes. While consultative procedures were installed, conflicts arose where planting programmes affected areas prized for ecological or landscape values. For example, controversy over planting in the flow country was taken to ministerial level.

In 1987, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) set up a working party to consider forestry issues and implications for local authorities and proposed zoning land as ‘preferred, potential and sensitive’ area for afforestation.

Requirements to assess the ‘Environmental Impact’ of the more substantial forestry projects were introduced in 1998 and, with them, the concept of ‘scoping’. At the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, the UK Prime Minister and over 150 other heads of state committed their countries to working towards national strategies for sustainable development in management of their natural resources. [28]

In Britain, the Government responded with three Rural white papers proposing long-term increases in woodland on a scale quite as ambitious as those originally proposed in 1917 in the Acland report. In 2000, the Scottish Executive published Forests for Scotland - the Scottish Forest Strategy, [29] setting a target of increasing woodland area from a sixth to a quarter of the land area by the middle of this century. This was followed in 2002 by UK Indicators of Sustainable Forestry. [30]

‘Stakeholders’ in forests has come to mean all those who have an interest in a woodland or forest area. Stakeholders’ views have acquired de facto political weight. In 1985, the Timber Growers UK attempted to create a widely acceptable framework of objectives. In consultation with 14 organisations with an interest in forestry and the environment, it published a Forestry and Woodland Code of acceptable practices. [31]

In 1989 Forestry Industry Committee GB (FICGB) was formed to act as spokesman for growers and processors of home-grown wood and to make representations to Parliament on its behalf. The RSFS made a donation towards the setting up costs of the FICGB, and subsequently contributed to its running costs.

A decade later, the UK Forestry Accord was launched under the auspices of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. It sought to achieve a consensual approach to sustainable forestry through co-operation, dialogue and agreement. The initial dialogue was conceived as between ‘umbrella’ organisations - the ‘Forest Industry Council of Great Britain’ and ‘Wildlife and Countryside Link’. This and subsequent workshops involved over 50 organisations, the Royal Scottish Forestry Society among them. Other organisations involved included timber growers, wood-using companies, woodland management companies, land managers’ organisations, local and national government bodies and departments, conservation charities and universities with a forestry faculty. [31]

In 1998, the UK Government published The UK Forestry Standard setting out its approach to sustainable forestry. [33] This document included, as an appendix, the text of the ‘Principles’, ‘Implementation’ and ‘Commitment’ of the ‘UK Forestry Accord’.

Our Name

The Society was first named the ‘Scottish Arboricultural Society’. The ‘excitement’ of trees when the society was first formed, reflected hopes that newly introduced species might both beautify the landscape and enhance timber production in the way the Dukes of Atholl had done through large-scale planting of larch in the late 18th Century.

Arboriculture in 1850s included the raising and establishment of young trees in open ground by the gardener or estate forester, many estates creating an arboretum to observe the performance of these new species. More familiar species were planted for the improvement of estates as landscape groups, or as shelter belts for stock, or as plantations for timber, whether hardwoods, Scotch fir (Pinus sylvestris) or larch (Larix decidua).

Queen Victoria became Patron of the Society in 1869; subsequent monarchs have all graciously agreed to be the Society’s Patron. The title Royal was conferred by Queen Victoria in 1887 following a visit to Balmoral for the Society’s first ever annual excursion  so that it became the Royal Scottish Arboricultural Society.

HRH The Duke of Edinburgh was elected an Honorary Member of the Society in 1954 at the Society’s Centenary meeting. Society members were honoured and delighted that he addressed members at the 150th Anniversary Conference.

In the inaugural lecture of the ‘School of Forestry’ at Edinburgh in 1889, Dr William Somerville differentiated between forestry as including formal management of land for sustained timber production and arboriculture as relating to more general management of individual trees.

In 1930, the Society changed its name to the Royal Scottish Forestry Society.



If there is any single lesson from our past, it is that leadership, vision and persistence have brought about the changes sought at the time. We must refresh our vision of how the Society can best serve its members and the long-term interests of forestry in the 21st Century, and lead where that vision indicates.

RSFS members have a tremendous heritage:


  • breadth of vision and experience of getting the best out of changes in circumstance;
  • breadth of membership and the cameraderie that comes from meeting people keen about trees, but from all sorts of background;
  • an existing framework and tradition of communication and networking by Society conferences, day visits and tours, and the Society Journal;
  • independence from Government.


We are deeply immersed in globalism, good and bad. Many people find time at a premium; current electronic technology is inescapable, but also time-consuming.

The future of the society is in the hands of its members. The ‘subsoil’ verities remain. There is political goodwill towards sustainable management, and an increase in the area of woodlands and forests of Scotland. However, determination, skill and persistence are necessary to realise these objectives and to secure their highest potential. Benefits must accrue to owners, to all dependent on woodland for their living, to other stakeholders interested in trees and the land, and to the multitude of creatures dependent on a flourishing woodland ecosystem.


The early part of the 19th century included the end of the Napoleonic wars, the expansion of the British Empire, and a substantial part of the Industrial Revolution, in particular, the development of the steam engine, and, from 1825, the spread of railways.

When the society was formed there were only about 157 miles of railway open in Scotland. Woodland covered little more than 4% of the land area. Long-distance movement of timber even by water was difficult and costly [7]. 

The Highland & Agricultural Society, formed in 1827, included forestry in its purview. It supported afforestation and gave gold medals and premiums for new planting during the first half of the 19th Century. That Society has consistently over the years, supported forestry in a farming context. The forestry area on the Royal Highland Show ground is evidence of this continuing tradition. Gardens as attributes to large estates were fashionable, owners actively renovating estates under landscape gardeners such as ‘Capability’ Brown and Repton. This, and the long-standing interest in medicinal herbs, resulted in the formation of the Horticultural Society. That body fostered the introduction of exotic species and sent out plant collectors. Among these was David Douglas, first sent out to North America in 1823 [8].

Later, and independently, a group of Scottish landowners formed the Oregon Society and sent out John Jeffrey to collect in 1850 along the west coast of North America. He disappeared in California in 1854.


Initially membership expanded quite rapidly, and from the start included landowners, factors, foresters, and commercial nurserymen. Membership in recent decades has declined, reflecting the overall number of forest managers employed and competition from other groups with an interest in forest management.

A printed record of the activities of the Society first appeared as Transactions in 1858. From the outset, the Society aimed to promote and disseminate knowledge of good practice of forestry and arboriculture by the offer of prizes. Members and others were encouraged to write essays to be read to the society about selected topics of practice. They were also encouraged to display specimens at annual meetings. The number of prizes offered varied. In the first year, there were four prizes; this number increased year by year, until by 1879 it averaged twenty five. However, not all prizes offered were competed for; in the 1870s, the number of prizes awarded averaged 60% of the number of prizes offered. (See Table 1)

Many of the prize essays appeared in a following number of the Transactions. Early numbers of the Transactions are heavily weighted to silvicultural matters eg Need to break up iron pan before planting; Larch canker and Aphis. There are reports of tree performance, and even a design for a model house for a forester. From time to time, there are quite lengthy contributions describing continental forest practice, sometimes for countries the national boundaries of which have materially changed.

Original technical reports appear, along with notes on many activities of subjects relevant to forestry policy and practice. In 1890 for example, topics included: Suitability of species for pitwood; Hints on training of foresters; and Smoke pollution from W. Lothian oil shales [11, 12, 13]. Reports of visits to estates feature regularly and provide insights into the forestry practices and concerns of the time. Over the years, there has been a consistently high standard and a wide range of subjects reported in the journal.

Early 2oth Century

From the latter part of the 18th Century, innovative landowners recognised the potential for improving untreed land by planting introduced species of trees. Foremost among these was the Duke of Atholl who planted over 4,000 hectares of larch on his Perthshire estate. In 1874, the then president, Prof J. Balfour, in his inaugural address, urged the need to plant waste land in Britain. [19] In 1902, a Government Departmental Committee was formed to consider the present and future position of forestry, including demonstration forest areas.

In 1908, a Royal Commission on Coastal Erosion made a second report devoted to forestry and recommended the formation of a Commission vested with powers to acquire land and make loans. [20] In 1909, the Society sent a deputation to the Development Commission, seeking financial aid for afforestation by planting, for forestry schools and for power to advance loans. Some assistance for teaching and demonstration was given, but nothing for afforestation. Because of concern about the implications of the Royal Commission report, in 1911 Lord Lovat and General Stirling made a detailed survey of Glenmore on behalf of the Society. They concluded that afforestation there and on similar ground was technically possible, and would do little injury to farming interests. [21]

There was no immediate Government response, and matters lapsed because of the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war. During that war however, home-grown timber, in spite of its knottiness and earlier rejection by sawmillers, was used in place of imported timber. By 1918, 64% of timber came from home sources compared with 7% in 1913, substantiating the case for a home-grown reserve of timber.

In 1917, the Final report of the Reconstruction Committee, Forestry Subcommittee (Chairman F.D. Acland) recommended the formation of a Forestry Commission. [22] This body was to be charged with increasing the aggregate woodland area of the UK to 4.75 million acres (1.92 million hectares), partly by new planting, and partly by rehabilitation of felled woodland. In 1919, the Forestry Commission was created by Act of Parliament to promote these ends. While it reported to ministers, it was independent of any agricultural department.

The newly formed Forestry Commission escaped the full effects of the 1922 ‘Geddes Axe’, following strong representations from the Society.

The 1920s and early 1930s were a period of agricultural depression. Some new planting was done but little rehabilitation of felled woodlands, so that by 1939 the 1919 forest area had been maintained but not restored to the 1914 level. War-time fellings in the 1939-45 war again drew heavily of home-grown sources.

Recognising the change of circumstances, in 1941 the RSFS and RFS (Royal Forestry Society of England and Wales) submitted a joint memorandum to government on post-war forest policy. [23, 24] In 1943 the Government issued its Post-war Forestry Policy and Post-war Forest Policy - Private Woodlands. [25, 26] In November of that year the Society, jointly with RFS submitted a memorandum to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on points of disagreement with FC proposals.

The Society formed a special committee under Prof H.M. Steven ‘to consider the Society’s function in relation to private forestry and to make recommendations.’ A member’s view that there should be more decentralisation was not supported. [27]

Post War Years


Means to implement national forest policy were incorporated in the Forestry Act 1945. For landowners, the key change was the empowering of the Forestry Commission to introduce a ‘Dedication Scheme’. This required owners entering the scheme to specify timber production as the main objective, to work to approved plans; to employed skilled supervision and to keep adequate accounts.

Over the period between the 1947 Census of Woodlands and 2002, the area of woodland not owned by the FC rose from 436 to 849 thousand hectares. [4, 6] Virtually all this planting was supported by one or other grant-aid schemes available to the private woodland owner, together with tax relief on spending on afforestation.

Grants for planting under the dedication scheme were available for over 30 years. [4 Table3] The associated management grant was valued as it supported employment of professional staff.

There were changes in overall post-war forest policy which while affecting forest practice, did not always affect grant schemes. The first major change came in the mid 1950s when the government substituted commercial and social objectives for the previously-stated need to build up a strategic reserve of timber.

A review in 1972 following a HM Treasury cost-benefit study, set creation and maintenance of rural employment as a key issue. During this period, the scale of new planting of privately owned woodlands was strongly influenced by the conditions of particular grants and the provisions for income tax off-sets, current at the time. Grants to conserve, and where possible to restore native woodland, were first initiated in 1978 with the introduction of the ‘Native Pinewood grant’.

In 1988, forestry was removed from all previously available tax reliefs except in relation to inheritance tax. Subsequent grants were raised, in order to offset the effects of loss of tax concessions. The new grant system placed greater importance on broadleaved woodland, leading to a short-term reduction in conifer planting and difficulties for nurserymen growing conifer nursery stock in anticipation of continuing large orders for conifer planting stock.

Since that time, while grants have continued to be available, they have become more targeted in favour of amenity and conservation objectives as well as the production of saleable logs. Some schemes have sought competitive tenders for planting in particular areas where additional forests have been considered high priority.

Independently of forestry provisions within the UK, European Community agricultural surpluses caused progressively increasing concern from the 1960s. They continue to affect the relationship between farming and forestry. Farm land area became less sacrosanct and from 1988, creation of woodlands on farms has been encouraged under ‘Farm woodland schemes’ funded by Agricultural Departments.



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