The 2019 Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards were the biggest-ever celebration of trees, woodland and forests – and arguably the very best.
With 20 different awards presented – to winners ranging from a very large public woodland steeped in forestry history to a nursery where children can spend their entire session in the woods – a huge diversity of excellence was on show.
As Angela Douglas, Executive Director of Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards, put it: “We have seen superb entries from right across Scotland, showcasing the wonderful diversity of our forests and woods and the wide-ranging skills of the people managing them.”
What binds the award-winners together is a passion for trees, and a commitment to bring talent and skill to bear to create exceptional results.
This was evident across the categories, with the one-off Centenary Award (marking 100 years since the 1919 Forestry Act) presented to Fort Augustus Woodlands, part of which includes the very first site acquired by the Forestry Commission in Scotland after the 1919 Act.
Judges said: “Covering almost 10,000 hectares, these woods are steeped in the history of 20th century forestry, up to the present day. Evident within the forest area is the full spectrum of challenges faced by forest managers over the last 100 years, along with their efforts, responses and initiatives to overcome those challenges.”
Another new award for the 2019 was the Farm Woodland Award for Young People, won by Lynn Cassells and Sandra Baer for Lynbreck Croft, near Grantown on Spey.
Lynn highlighted the value of trees to the croft business, saying: “We have tried to achieve full integration of trees and woodland into the business. They are a valuable asset in terms of shelter for animals and fuel for us – as well as everything they do for biodiversity and soaking up carbon. That three-legged stool of sustainability – the economic, environmental and social benefits of woodlands – is at the heart of everything we are trying to do in our community.”
Another fascinating winner was Craggach Woods, Kirkhill, near Inverness, in the Quality Timber Small Wood category. Owners David Shepherd and Annie Griffiths are trying to break down traditional barriers and show you can have broadleaf native woodland and still grow timber. They described themselves as custodians of the site for the future – as they look towards a time when timber harvested at Craggach Woods can provide a good living for someone.
There was high praise from the judges for excellent forest management. Bidwells won in the New Native Woods category for its work with Jahama Highland Estates at Kinlochleven, Lochaber, where native woodland cover has increased from 23% to 43% within the restoration area. Judges said: “The planting and natural regeneration of the 228ha Kinlochleven Native Woodland Restoration project has made, and continues to make, a significant impact on the long term future of native woodland in this part of the West Coast of Scotland.”
The management of Darroch Wood on the Scaniport Estate, south of Inverness, was also praised. Bowlts foresters Dr Ben Lennon FICFor and Ben Watson collected the John Kennedy Trophy for Multi-purpose Woodlands in the Quality Timber category along with James Baillie, the owner of Scaniport Estate.
The woodland has been managed by Bowlts for 20 years and judges said: “The stands of Douglas Fir and Larch in Darroch Woods are magnificent both in terms of timber quality and visual appeal. The conifers run into extensive oakwoods and both provide an exceptional backdrop for the network of footpaths through the wood.
The owner is committed to managing the woods as continuous cover forests which will safeguard the social, economic and environmental benefits for the long term.”
There was a surprise when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon arrived to present the Schools Award to Earthtime Forest School Nursery in Duffus, north of Elgin, where children are allowed to spend their whole nursery session in the woodlands. She also presented the runner-up award to Levenmouth Academy in Buckhaven, Fife, where pupils have planted more than 8000 trees on a site next to the school.
The First Minister said: “It’s wonderful to see young people in Scotland – from nursery through to secondary school – engaging with trees and our natural environment in such a positive way. We have a committed and enthusiastic next generation ready to take up the climate challenge – including planting tens of millions more trees.”
* For a full list of winners, go to www.sfwa.co.uk