Training is the key to growth of Scotland's forestry industry says Lantra's Fergusson

One of the Scottish Government's rural priorities is the growth of the forestry sector but yesterday it emerged that there could be major problems in the future if that happens

Willie Fergusson, Scottish director of Lantra, who are responsible for training carried out in the land-based industries, said there were real issues in getting sufficient numbers of people to come into the forestry sector.

Overall, Lantra reckon that land-based industries in Scotland will require around 12,000 new entrants before the end of this decade and forestry is an important part of that rural economy.

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Fergusson was concerned that there were hurdles within the sector that prevented training taking place. Speaking at the Highland Show, he said that the training needed for working the harvesters and forwarders used in timber felling and extraction could be as high as 6,000 per student.

Some of these specialised vehicles cost around 250,000 and specialised training was needed to work these machines efficiently and safely.

Fergusson added that the structure of the forestry industry was such that many of those working in the woods were self employed and could not access funding for training.

Those coming into forestry were often in their 20s and funding for this age group was more difficult than for those leaving school.

He was supported by Jim Brown, who both grows trees commercially and also operates a sawmill business at Dunbar.

"We really need financial help from government to help fund the next generation of foresters," he said.

"If forestry is important, then they will have to play their part in getting training into the sector."

Part of the problem, according to Brown, was the public perception that forestry was a simple basic job, whereas the reality nowadays was of a highly technical work place with very sophisticated pieces of equipment.

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Both speakers were attending the launch of a Modern Apprenticeship scheme designed to attract the next generation into the industry.

Alasdair Cunningham, Lochgilphead, who had taken part in the pilot scheme, said that it had given him the knowledge and skills to move on to his new position as a foreman for the Forestry Commission.