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Our World View: Harper Adams - addressing a skills gap in forestry sector

Posted 7 February 2014

Professor Simon Leather

A monthly comment from a member of staff at Harper Adams University

By Professor Simon Leather, Professor of Entomology

"A report published by Defra on February 5 TH0115 Strategic Analysis of Capability and Capacity to undertake Tree Health Research and Evidence Activity in the UK , has highlighted research and evidence themes identified by key policy stakeholders and  forest researchers from the university sector, research institutes and forest industry. 

Ten themes were identified - Horizon scanning, Pathways and trade, Pest and pathogen biology and epidemiology, Detection and surveillance, Ecological patterns, Control and Management, Adaptation and resilience in forests and forestry, Governance and contingency planning, Economic evaluation and analysis and finally Public engagement, communication and citizen science.

Three of the themes - Pest and pathogen biology and epidemiology, Control and management and Adaptation and resilience in forests and forestry, were identified as areas where existing research providers lack current capability and/or capacity in one or more types of expertise. 

The report further highlighted that there are serious skills shortages in the UK in mycology, plant pathology and entomology, especially in relation to forest health.  For example, in the university sector there are only two forest entomologists and one forest pathologist.

Tree specific expertise such as silviculture – the care and cultivation of forest trees, was also highlighted as being in short supply.  The problem is further exacerbated in that when such specialists retire they are often not replaced, even when suitable candidates are available.

The report highlighted the widespread concerns about the lack of undergraduate and even more critically, the lack of MSc and PhD opportunities in forestry and tree health in particular.

Much of this has been a result of universities replacing specialist niche degrees with more broadly-based subjects perceived to be more attractive to students.  A key recommendation of the report is that funding needs to be put in place to support postgraduate level teaching and training support. This is to ensure a new generation of individuals capable of working in the area of tree health, assisting a smoother and more efficient transition from broad-based undergraduate biology degrees to PhD level research.

Another recommendation from the report is that a virtual Centre for Tree health Science should be created.  This would be created by linking together those organisations currently active in the field and with appropriate training provision available.

At Harper Adams University we are ideally placed to respond to the issues raised in the report. We run the only UK-based MSc degrees in Entomology, and are planning to launch exciting new developments in Plant Pathology and Nematology from September 2014. We also run a forestry-related MSc course in Conservation & Forest Protection and we are also planning to launch an MSc Forestry Management from September 2014.

We also offer undergraduate degrees in Countryside and Environmental Management and Wildlife Conservation and Natural Resource Management, both of which have significant woodland and forest-related elements. A number of recent key appointments and the recently launched multidisciplinary Centre for Integrated Pest Management (CIPM) mean that we at Harper Adams University are also in an excellent position to undertake research in this area."

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