Scottish Woodland History Conference

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A week ago, I had the opportunity to attend the Scottish Woodland History Conference, put on by the Native Woodland Discussion Group and held at the Scottish Natural Heritage Battleby Conference Center, by Perth.

I had learned about the conference while reading through a book by T.C. Smout – Scottish Woodland History.  Smout, among many other accolades, was the founder of of the Institute for Environmental History at the University of St Andrews.  Given my interest in forestry and the fact that I am now an Environmental History PhD student at the University of St Andrews, the conference was instantly of interest to me.

I asked my supervisor when the next conference would be, and when he shared an email notification for the 2016 conference, I eagerly signed up to attend.  Although I am uncertain whether or not woodland history will play part in my dissertation, I thought it beneficial for me attend this conference to see what topics are discussed surrounding the subject…and there is also the fact that it was a conference about trees (so, how could I resist?)

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The cohort of the conference was a diverse group – academics, retired foresters, estate managers, students, those currently engaged in natural resource management, and I suspect a few who were simply just interested in learning about woodlands.  T.C. Smout was also in attendance, and it was a delight to meet him not only because I am, at the moment, reading several books he wrote but also because he played an instrumental role in creating the program (Environmental History) I am now part part of at the University of St Andrews.  Quite frankly, I felt a little star-struck, and he was clearly something of a celebrity at the conference.

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The conference program was very engaging, with presentations for academics and resource managers.  The topics discussed ranged widely and included:  woodland management during the Middle Ages, tree-ring evidence (to date the wood and determine the origin of the wood) of woodland products (buildings, boats), the influence of the Enlightenment on woodland management, military influence on Scottish forestry, the impact of the First World War on Scotland’s forests, and estate management of Scotland woodlands.

I greatly benefited from the day.  The presentations provided with me not only a foundation to understand the differences between what I know of American forestry with Scotland woodland management, but also gave me a few ideas for my own PhD work.  I hope to include woodland history somewhere in my dissertation, but even if I don’t, it is a topic I plan to pursue and learn more of as a hobbyist.

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Another big take-away for me from the conference was, as I’ve experienced in the States, those who work with trees (academically or from the resource management side) seemed to truly love what they do.  It is not only “what they do,” it is also clearly part of who they are, and that is something I feel too in regards to trees.  One retired forester I spoke with explained, with a contagiously cheerful tone, how his career as a forester had taken him all over the world to work in Borneo, England, Belize, and Scotland.  When I asked him what his favorite type of woodland was he said “all of them” because “there is so much to learn from each.”

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Quite right. And I’m looking forward to a lifetime of learning all about forests myself.

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