Alnwick Probus Club

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FORESTRY FACTS: Bob Harrison, retired head forester of Northumberland Estates and chairman of Alnwick Probus Club, addressed the January meeting on Serried Ranks and Bluebells, a talk on the development of the forestry industry from the mid-18th century to the present day.

Bob explained that forestry had assumed national importance in the time of Henry VIII during the expansion of the Royal Navy, and by the late 18th century the navy had increased to such an extent that huge areas of oak forests were needed for ship building and repairs.

This emphasis changed by the late 19th century when an iron clad American ship destroyed two British ships and it was realised that the days of the Hearts of Oak British Navy were over.

However, new wars only underlined that trees were still needed as a national asset, at that time modern iron ships ran on coal, so the requirement changed from producing ship building oak to producing pit props and paper, not from oak but from sitka spruce.

As with most trends in agriculture most of the stimulus in forestry was government led through committees, commissions and tax concessions. Through tax concessions private estates were encouraged to plant forests, through Parliamentary Committees the Forestry Commission was established and leading from that the serried ranks of conifers appeared.

Once more there has been a change of emphasis in the activities in the forestry industry. Pit props are no longer a major user of timber, but the paper, packaging and chipboard industries are and Britain still has a massive demand for home grown timber and still imports huge amounts of product from overseas.

The leisure and tourist industries are also attracted to afforested areas leading to an expansion of deciduous tree planting. Such woodland habitat encourages the establishment of swathes of bluebells, hence the title of Bob’s talk.

The next Probus meeting, to be held on February 14, is to hear a talk on Harry Hotspur by Mr R Brooks of the Northumberland Gazette. New members are welcome and anyone interested should contact Bill Bland on 01669 620572 or bland.thropton@tiscali.co.uk