Obituary: David Trevor Seal, forest manager

Energetic, witty and charismatic researcher who held a number of senior positions with the Forestry Commission. Picture: Contributed
Energetic, witty and charismatic researcher who held a number of senior positions with the Forestry Commission. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 29 September, 1925, in York. Died: 12 October, 2015, in Peebles, aged 90.

David Seal joined the Forestry Commission in 1951 as a forest officer and his first posting was to Fort Augustus under the late Robin Drummond, who became a life-long friend and fishing companion. This was the start of a most distinguished career in forestry throughout Scotland over the next 34 years.

This included running the large Forest District of Perthshire and Angus based on Dalguise; several years as assistant conservator for North Scotland in Inverness, and culminating with the appointment in 1974 to the Commission’s Research Station on the Bush Estate, Edinburgh as the chief research officer in charge of a major research programme throughout Scotland and the North of England.

David’s time with the commission was a period of immense activity and rapid changes in the forestry scene, with large planting programmes, expanding wood production and major developments in research and in management of the landscape.

At that time from the 1950s into the 1980s there was a very clear sense of purpose, practical achievement and good fellowship – to all of which David contributed massively due to his phenomenal energy, the high quality of his work and his charismatic personality.

With his unfailing quick wit and sense of humour he was hugely respected and liked by everyone who knew him.

He was a proud Yorkshireman, which may or may not explain why he possessed so many star qualities! Born and raised in York, he joined the Navy in 1942 at only 17, leading to an action-packed wartime service in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Far East.

On one patrol in 1944 in the North Sea he survived the sinking of his ship by a mine. He was demobbed in late 1946. After a brief spell studying architecture in Leeds he decided he wanted an outdoor life so he switched to forestry at the University of Aberdeen.

There he graduated in 1950 as part of what I can only describe as a “vintage crop” of graduates, including the late Professor John Matthews and the late John Fletcher, a co-founder of the Tree Aid charity.

There are many tales that can be told about his great career but one of the most important is that concerning his meeting and romance in 1951 with Beryl, an attractive young South African music graduate .

They were married in Edinburgh in September 1953.

David was a very bright professional and an achiever with a personality that inspired everyone who worked with him. His enthusiasm was contagious and there was usually a buzz of excitement around whatever he did.

His jokes and quick asides are legendary and laughter was never far away. He was an innovator and a perfectionist who insisted on everything being done well, but he also had the great gift of warmth and kindness with a strong tendency to give the credit to others for any successes – near perfect qualifications for anyone managing an enterprise.

He had so many talents, not least as a sailor, starting with many very happy family holidays dinghy sailing based in Inverness when his three children were in their early teens. A long time later came several years of holiday sailing in the Mediterranean and Aegean.

However, the ultimate sailing enterprise came nine years after he retired, when David and Beryl sold their lovely home at Waulkmill near West Linton, moved to the south coast in Devon, and there bought a large boat and a small house.

This was a bold adventure to start at the age of 70.

For six years they sailed the high seas together, David as skipper and Beryl as engineer and navigator, before moving back to Scotland and to Peebles.

He was a master fly fisher all his life and this led to many trips and great companionship with his many friends, often in recent years comprising an age group with just a touch of the Last of the Summer Wine about them. They were very happy times for all.

David’s love of precision and attention to detail came out in his skill as a wood carver and in projects such as the beautifully equipped workshop that he built a few years ago in his Peebles garden.

This was even more impressive than the most magnificent woodshed I have ever seen that he built to dry his logs at Waulkmill.

He was also no mean poet and could burst into entertaining verse at unexpected times. As an artist he was a dab hand with a paint brush in watercolours in a style that was precise and pleasing.

After they returned to Scotland in 2000, David and Beryl found lasting happiness, both of them with their many friends; Beryl with her music and David with his fishing and golf.

David was diagnosed with Parkinson’ Disease in 2007 and it had been a brave battle with his gradual decline since then. A very special tribute is due to Beryl for the enormous part she has played in David’s life. No words can do justice to her heroism and support for him, especially during the last year.

On a most beautiful autumn day a short time before he died he celebrated his 90th birthday with his family.

David adored his family – his children Andrew, Peter and Merry and his seven grandchildren. They and their progress through life have been his inspiration and delight. David’s story has been of a most fabulous and fulfilling life – lived by one of the finest men it has been my privilege to know.