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Forestry education and research

J.L. Harley

J.L. HARLEY is Professor of Forestry in charge of the Commonwealth Forestry Institute, Oxford.

The researcher needs contact with the broad main stream of scientific thinking, as well as with problems and solutions in the forest

Forestry is a technologically-based industry, the future of which depends fundamentally on biological science, economics and increasingly on other sciences such as chemistry and the science of materials. These scientific roots of forestry can only be kept nourished if contact is maintained with the basic sciences in a university, and this applies equally to teaching and to research.

Thus the location and nature of research are affected by the need to keep contact with a widening range of scientific disciplines, both from the standpoint of training, and for making use of contributory sciences. A forestry faculty should possess in itself a wide awareness of the sciences from which the forest industry derives its new inspirations.

How can this be brought about ? Surely by ensuring that the teaching staff should also have a direct interest in research, so that between them there is an understanding of a wide spectrum of scientific subjects. In biology many advances relevant to forestry are being made, for instance in plant nutrition and the application of nutrients; in disease control through chemical or biological means; in the development of selective herbicides and pesticides; in soil microbiology; in sampling methods and statistics, to name but a few. We must keep abreast of these developments, drawing the attention of students to them in our teaching.

Forestry, accordingly, requires trained research workers. Such people should possess a good research approach, and must be found among forestry graduates who have taken research degrees and from other graduates who undertake research in forestry subjects. Education of these research workers requires competent research supervisors with a current research interest, within the teaching faculty.

It was - and still is - customary in many forest departments, for example in the United Kingdom, for forest research workers to be recruited from the ranks of serving forest officers, and for there to be a reluctance to recruit specially trained science or forestry graduates. This approach argues that an awareness of problems in the field is essential before any research can be undertaken; there is some merit in this approach, but it ignores the need for contact with new scientific developments and research methods and does not provide for training in research methods. Most would probably agree that in the perfect situation healthy forestry research needs contacts in both directions - both with the field where problems arise and solutions are applied, and with the wider scientific community where research methods are devised and refined.

What kinds of research are suitable for teaching establishments ? Clearly, research requiring large areas of land or long periods of time is not appropriate, nor are studies requiring heavy equipment, owing to the financial or time-tabling constraints of educational establishments. The teaching loads of the staff concerned must also be considered, and it is, therefore, important to look at forestry research problems.

Research problems may originate from two sources, the field, or the applied scientist, and these tend to generate different types of problems. The problems of the practical man arise largely out of methods, species and materials in current use, and the objective is generally to refine or improve existing techniques. The problems produced by the research scientist are more likely to involve the use of new scientific advances. For example, hormone sprays have been used in horticulture to control branching in fruit trees: in forestry the question might be asked whether similar methods might be used in pruning. This kind of research project or trial is most likely to be generated when scientists of diverse disciplines are in close contact with one another, as where a faculty of forestry exists in the wider framework of university science.

Of course, it may be argued that the main advantage of the university is its size, and that a large forest research institute can similarly employ people with a sufficiently wide range of skills. But this is an alternative so expensive that it is doubtful if it would ever be achieved, and in any case the advantage of the incorporation of the training element is lost. The large research institute would seem to have most to gain when situated near a university, as happens at Ibadan in Nigeria and in the United Kingdom. Near Edinburgh, for instance, a large research complex including both a large section of the Forestry Commission's research branch, and also the Institute of Tree Biology, has been set up close to Edinburgh University. Here the university forestry department is involved with teaching and with a wide range of research problems with particular relevance to the country's forestry.

The situation which has developed over the last few years offers some interesting lessons. Research in agriculture has been so organized as to keep close contact with the scientific research that is relevant to it. Without going into great detail, it can be stated that there are essentially three levels at which research is undertaken:

· At the level of practical agriculture, the Ministry of Agriculture maintains experimental farms, where testing and demonstration of crops and methods take place in the last stages before practical application. At this level there is an advisory service to assist farmers in testing the results of research.

· Strategic research aimed at resolving practical problems is carried out at the agricultural experimental stations under the auspices of the Agricultural Research Council (ARC), where subjects for research are drawn both from the practical farmer and from the station's cadre of applied scientists. Research problems are coordinated in a general sense by joint advisory committees which consist of farmers, scientists, civil servants from the Ministry of Agriculture, and scientists from the ARC. Up to 10 percent of the research carried out at this level may be more fundamental and perhaps more speculative in its ultimate application, engendered by the research scientists rather than the farmer.

· The ARC also sets aside an annual budget for financing research at universities, for which the programme is considered by research committees representing farming and scientific interests. The work is not confined to agricultural facilities: the more academic, biological and physical science departments are also involved, and it is at this level that research scientists are trained and other scientists kept aware of the needs of agriculture.

The forester should make contact in his most formative period with people in other professions, professions which he must understand in relation to his own work.

This third level is a particularly important one, for here the basic research relevant to agriculture or forestry is or could be carried out in the same framework within which training is done. A research worker does not, of course, always make the best teacher, and vice versa, but for research, example may be more important than teaching; and from this environment are produced young research workers with a realistic understanding of agricultural problems. In the United Kingdom this close relationship between research and training is often missing in forestry, and we suffer as a result. The organization for it is unclear, and such relationships as these are on a small scale.

This report has so far ignored the industrial use of forest products, which is a subject that requires much more detailed consideration than can be given here. It may be found convenient to separate industrial and biological forestry both in training and research; yet at some point, advanced thought about the future of both must be closely allied. The dilemma that the future poses is this: rapid developments in the industrial use of wood as a pulp and pulp products are occurring, extending the range of species that can be used and the products that can be made; yet the renewable resource the industry depends on is committed to a particular end product tens of years ahead, and cannot match its rapidity of change. Constant contracts to further the mutual understanding of problems between these two arms of forestry are becoming increasingly important, and one valuable forum for this is the university.

Forestry teaching institutions must aim to keep abreast of progress in other branches of science by giving their staff the opportunity to carry out research and by encouraging contacts with scientists from other disciplines. They should include an element of training for research workers in their curricula, and above all should ensure that forest scientists are not isolated from the main stream of scientific thought and progress.

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