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Forestry Apprentice’s certificate
Forestry Memories
No: 3643   Contributor: Norman Davidson   Year: 1923
Forestry Apprentice’s certificate

Photograph courtesy of Sandy Gordon, Black Isle, whose father James Gordon was a long service forester in the Forestry Commission latterly at Ferness Forest, Nairnshire.

This is a rare piece of forestry history as this certificate could well be from the first intake of students at Beaufort Forest Apprentice School. The certificate states that James Gordon attended a three year course ending in June 1923 indicating that it began around June to August 1920. The first Annual report for the Forestry Commission year ending September 1920 reports:

‘‘Up to September 30th, 1920, schools for forest apprentices had been established at the Forest of Dean, New Forest, Chopwell (County Durham), Beaufort (Inverness-shire) and Avondale (Co. Wicklow), and 41 students were receiving instruction.
Two of the schools (New Forest and Beaufort) were established and opened during the year, while the Dean Forest and Chopwell Schools had been in existence for some considerable time, but having been closed down in the later stages of the war were re-opened.’’

It would appear there was little time for an intake prior to that in June – August 1920.

The certificate is signed by James Fraser the senior instructor at the School who at a later point was appointed Divisional Officer and then Conservator for North Scotland. The first signatory is that of Lord Lovat (Simon Joseph Fraser and owner of Beaufort Castle and Estate) who was Chairman of the Forestry Commission in its early years.

Little is known about the actual courses and how they were structured but some reports indicate 80% practical work with 20% class room based learning. This is the first mention of a three year course and later ones were timed for a two year duration. Any information on names of attendees at Beaufort, which buildings and accommodation units they used, the structure of the training they received and the particular forest areas that they worked in would be very welcome indeed.

On leaving the Beaufort School James, according to his family, was posted to Newcastleton Forest (Roxburghshire) then under the charge of Mr J F Macintyre. Two years later (1925) he was apparently posted to Island of Mull where a new Forestry Commission forest called Salen had been started led by Forester A M Fraser.

It is not clear how ex school students progressed through the ranks at this early point in the Forestry Commission but it is most likely that they would initially work as gangers for a period of time and then possibly make their way up to foreman grade before stepping into the Forester Grade 2 position. Whether there were formal reports and promotion boards is not known but any information would be most welcome. Unfortunately the records to hand do not record any staff below Forester Grade 2. At this time some university graduates also started their career as Foresters and worked their way up from this level. It should be noted that Foremen were also at times placed in charge of newly created forest units and then if they acquitted themselves well could be promoted in situ.

James Gordon’s family believe that his next posting was to Findon Forest in the Black Isle in 1939 and probably as Forester in Charge. He is recorded as Forester Grade 2 in 1934 and after the war as Grade 1 still in Findon Forest. In 1957 he was transferred to Ferness Forest as Head Forester and completed his working career there in 1968. Coincidentally his District Officer who covered a number of separate forest units from the office in Culloden was Mr A M Fraser (formerly in Mull)!

In the 1933 Journal of the Forestry Commission an article appeared written by J Gordon. There is little other information on location of the experiments but it has to be assumed this was written by James Gordon while on Mull.

‘‘Planting of Seedlings.
In Journal No. 11, Mr. A. P. Long gave us some interesting material on the planting of spruce seedlings. The experiments carried out on this area rather corroborate Mr. Long’s statements. In the following note some details are given of three plots of 2-year Sitka spruce seedlings and one of 2 + 1 Sitka spruce transplants, planted on mounds. In all cases the type of ground is peaty with very little mineral soil, the herbage is of heather, scirpus, molinia and bog myrtle.

The ground was drained and mounded in May, 1931, and planted in
May, 1932 (the 2 + 1 being planted in April, 1932). In the case of the
seedlings the dibble method was used and the Mansfield spade for the
2 + 1 plants. The seedlings ranged from 3 in. to 8 in. and were planted during a cold, dry spell of east wind.

Plot 1.—In this plot the seedlings were planted just as we received them from the nursery, i.e. small and large as they came out of the planting bag. At the beginning of January, 1933, there was a death rate of 40 per cent., chiefly among the seedlings under 5 in. The living plants had an average growth of ¾ in. for the season.
Plot 2.—Selected seedlings from the same lot as No. 1 were used
These were chosen for strength of growth and strong long roots. In
January, 1933, they had a death rate of 15 per cent, and the living plants
had an average growth of 1¼ in. for the season.
Plot 3.—Adjoining Plots 1 and 2 is the one of 2 + 1 Sitka spruce.
During the cold dry spell already mentioned, we had some hard frost in
the mornings. This caused frost lift in this plot, the plants were firmed
immediately after but still a few mounds were affected for the second time by frost. To this cause the death of 5 per cent of the plants in the plot may be attributed. The average growth was 3 in. and the maximum 5 in.
Plot 4.—On an area adjoining Plot 3 I tried the 2-year seedlings on
mounds, in which steps were cut to shelter the plant from the prevailing
wind. At first I thought this method was going to be successful. After the dry spell the plants turned red in colour and both large and small died to the extent, of about 50 per cent.
Summary.—In Plot 1 the small plants, owing to the roots being too near the surface, suffered from the drought and frost. In No. 4 both
large and small suffered because the cutting of steps from the mound did not allow for deep planting. In No. 2 the plant roots were well down in the mound and were not injured by drought or frost lift. In
many cases in Plot 3 the spade went through the mound, and made a hole in the ground underneath, the trouble in this plot was frost lift.
If holes with dibbles were made and the plant threaded through as recommended in Mr. Long’s article frost lift might be avoided.

J. Gordon’’
Picture added on 22 March 2017 at 16:33
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