Non-foresters Day at the Nursery

Stuart Glen 135

Non-foresters Day at the Nursery

On Tuesday 8 September, several of ICF’s non-forestry staff visited Alba Trees for their open day, which offered a tour of their nursery facilities. Julie Adamson, Marketing & Communications Officer, and Dr Stuart Glen, Membership Manager, offer their perspectives on the day.

Stuart Glen 135Dr Stuart Glen
ICF Membership Manager

Having previously worked at the Scottish Wildlife Trust, I have visited the Trust’s Wildflower Nursery in Grangemouth on many an occasion, however this was my first visit to a commercial tree nursery. Alba Trees Nursery, in East Lothian is Britain’s largest cell-grown forest nursery, selling almost 11 million trees each year.

For me, the visit was a genuine insight into nursery production, a component of our sector I’m somewhat unfamiliar with. The Open Day involved an array of expert staff explaining elements of the nursery production process – from seed collection, preparation and sowing to grading individual plants ready for dispatch; from the intricacies of the composition of the growing medium to routinely tackling pests and diseases. The staff spoke with great knowledge and passion. We were then able to tour the nursery itself and gained a sense of perspective for the current stock spread over the 13 hectare site.

Initially, I was struck by how labour intensive the process is. Staff manually sandpaper the seed to scarify them, sort them on riddles and sow them by hand. Other staff walk the beds each day and visibly inspect the plants to identify any early signs of stress.

I was interested to see the marked difference in seed-sown versus vegetative propagation conifers. Differences even visible to me, as a layman, and differences which have significant impact on production times and retail value.

Greenhouse 450

And I was intrigued by the nursery’s ability to react to market demands. Cell-grown trees on free standing trays allow Alba Trees to accommodate (and in some instances speculate on) trends in the market quicker than more traditional nurseries. The claim was that Alba Trees could have a species to market within 5 years.

I’d like to say a massive thank you to Rodney, Grant, Margaret and all the Alba Trees staff for hosting such an informative and enjoyable Open Day.

Conifer stands 450


Julie 125Julie Adamson
ICF Marketing & Communications Officer

After a warm welcome from Alba trees, we were given a demonstration the steps that it takes to getting Alba’s cell-grown trees client-ready. As a non-forester, one of the most striking aspects of this process was the balance between traditional and modern methodology. We were shown the seed preparation process, involving manual tasks such as sand papering by hand and soaking seeds in water – something I’d expect to see in a vegan kitchen rather than a state of the art nursery facility! However, equally important were the array of fertilisation techniques employed, which took me quite by surprise. The fragility of the plants at this point in their lives and the number of chemicals it takes to produce a healthy plant – including nutrient supplements – is quite incredible.

Cell trees 450

After my visit to Alba, I truly understand the word ‘nursery’ in forestry and arboricultural sense. The dedication required to manage trees in their infancy is enormous. And if I’m comparing these plants to human children there was definitely a favourite (you know, the spoilt one?) – vegetative-propagated (VP) sitka spruce. All VP stock handled by Alba comes from Forest Research and has been genetically modified; be it for bulk, uniformity, branching quality, wood density etc. Funnily enough, much of this VP stock is then sold back to Forestry Commission for planting. Throughout the nursery there was a huge focus on hydration, but especially with the VP plants. Here it was revealed that an innate understanding of weather conditions was all part of the nursery managers’ job spec. Temperature and humidity were closely monitored on a daily basis as over-watering, just as much as under-watering, would have catastrophic consequences for the VP stock.

Finally, I was impressed with Alba Trees commitment and attention to pest and disease prevention, and this was an important aspect of the day, with all attendees asked to clean their boots before and after moving about the facility. Sincere thanks to the Alba Trees team for a most interesting day at the nursery.

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