The Royal Forestry Society

Trees play a central part in all our lives. They provide food and fuel, raw materials for the building, furniture, paper and many other industries. Their presence has often been associated with religious celebrations. Their longevity and beauty co...

Founded by working foresters and nurserymen in Northumberland in 1882, the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) is dedicated to sharing knowledge and the management of forests and woodlands. It was amongst those who helped influence the establishment of the Forestry Commission in 1919. Today the RFS has more than 4,000 members, many of whom work as foresters and arboriculturalists. They also include estate managers, ecologists, students, academics, timber processors and, quite simply, people who love trees. The Society covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland through its 21 local divisions and also manages three woodlands.

The Society's South West Division, which covers Devon and Cornwall, has over 200 members and a programme of events which takes them to estates all over the South-west and further afield. Here they can see woodlands which are not normally open to the public, and talk to and learn from the experienced men and women who look after them.

Nick Davey, SW Divisional Secretary for the RFS, has grown forest trees and hedging plants at his Honiton nursery in Devon for the past 30 years. "Living in the South-west, we are fortunate to have a region which includes some of the most varied and interesting woodlands in the British Isles," he says. "It is an ideal climate for tree growth and produces some superb tree specimens in sheltered spots, with champion trees of many varieties." Nick must be one of the few people who think that the summer of 2007 was the best ever - the wet weather produced amazing growth amongst the seedlings he planted this year.

Nick continues: "The very varied topography allows us to view woods in a wide range of landscapes. Violent, salt-laden winds mean only the toughest trees and shrubs survive on our coasts. Inland, sheltered and in some places sub-tropical habitats exist within a few miles of wind-swept, high granite moors.

"Woodlands are valued for the contribution they make to the landscape and economy of the region. Therefore, we have truly 'multi-purpose' woods, often managed for timber production, conservation, wildlife and public access."

The rich combination of habitats that exists within Devon is reflected in the variety of field visits that members of the South Western Division of the RFS can make. There are usually four field visits and one evening talk each year. Speakers in recent years have focussed on climate change, wood fuel and sawmilling, while visits to woods have looked at timber production, small woods' management, coppice habitats for butterflies, tree health, wood fuel systems, heathland restoration and public recreation.

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Amongst visits this year was one to Haldon Forest, situated on the heathland ridge six miles south-west of Exeter and which, at 1,400 hectares, is the Forestry Commission's largest forest in the South-west. Much of the forest is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).

Historically, the forest has provided timber production, public access and wildlife conservation and has evolved into the Haldon Forest Park, complete with a network of 25 miles of forest walks, cycleways and bridlepaths.

During this visit, Forestry Commission staff Chris Marrow, Allan Smart and Roger Worthington took the members on a tour through the forest. They saw how the interests of public access are balanced against the need for timber extraction, considered the economics of a heathland restoration project within the forest, and paused at a bird of prey viewpoint which gave spectacular views over Dartmoor in the distance.

Locally, the Division is also encouraging young people to take an interest in forestry and woodland management, and this year will see the first annual RFS award made to a student on the arboricultural course at Bicton College in Budleigh Salterton.

Nick Davey said: "I would urge everyone in Devon to get out and enjoy our many trees and woodlands, and if you are involved in planting trees or hedges that will benefit the public, check with your local council because there are various fund schemes in place, particularly if you are planting native trees."

How to join the RFS

To find out more about the Royal Forestry Society South West Division contact the Divisional Secretary Nick Davey on (01404 43344 or e-mail

For details of the RFS visit or call (01442 822028

Fascinating tree facts

* A particular species of service tree, Sorbus devoniensis, is native to the county and found mainly in hedgerows in North Devon. Its fruits, which are brownish-orange, used to be sold in Barnstaple market. Nationally scarce, the species is under threat because of hedgerow loss, frequent and close-cutting of hedgerows, and competition from invasive non-native species such as rhododendron.

* Britain has more ancient trees than anywhere else in Northern Europe.

* The yew in the churchyard at Stoke Gabriel is reputedly at least

1,000 years old.

* Yew wood can outlive iron.

* The Devonian names Beare, Bere and Beer are all derived from the Anglo-Saxon bearu - a wood or grove

* Tree roots typically extend horizontally as far as the tree is tall, but do not go down very far, the majority staying in the top 600mm.

The Woodland Trust

The Woodland Trust manages numerous woods throughout the county, many of which are open to the public. They're marked with an oak leaf symbol on the Ordnance Survey Explorer maps. The website: www.woodlandtrust/ has a directory of its woods, with information about what you can see, where to park, etc.

The National Trust

There are many beautiful woods within the Trust's estates in Devon. Robert Hesketh's walk this month visits the woods at Watersmeet, and there are fine walks through the woods fringing the Dart between Kingswear and Galmpton. On Dartmoor try the hanging oak woods at Steps Bridge, Hembury Woods with its hill fort, or the Parke estate near Bovey Tracey.

Devon Wildlife Trust

The DWT manages some 40 nature reserves around Devon; those which contain woodland include Halsdon near Torrington, Dunsford on Dartmoor, Andrew's Wood (north of Kingsbridge), and Warleigh Point near Tamerton Foliot. Contact

Haldon Forest Park

Great for a family day out, the park offers walking and off-road cycling, and plenty of playing opportunities for children. Open from 8.30am-5pm during the winter months, the only cost is a parking ticket - �1 for 4 hours or �2 for the day.

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