After a hiatus in 2020, Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards are back for 2021 – along with a new prize.

THE world of forestry and wood processing is a broad church and it is sometimes a challenge to get all members of the congregation to join together in perfect harmony.

Scotland’s Finest Woods Awards, however, are a superb example of public forest bodies, private sector businesses, environmental organisations and charities singing from the same hymn-sheet.

This is perhaps down to the admirably ambitious strap-line for the awards – to “celebrate the contribution that woodlands can make to the people, environment and economic prosperity of Scotland”.

The awards are back for 2021, after an inevitable hiatus in 2020, when they were due to celebrate their 35th anniversary. Just a week before entries closed on 31 March, full lockdown was announced, soon followed by the cancellation of the Royal Highland Show, where the forestry and wood community gathers to reward excellence in all its forms.

“We were bitterly disappointed to have to cancel the 2020 awards, but it quickly became obvious that was the only option,” said Angela Douglas, executive director of Scotland’s Finest Woods, the charity which operates the awards. “Sending experienced and independent judges out to all parts of Scotland to ensure our winners are truly deserving of the ‘Finest Woods’ badge of quality is an integral part of our programme.

“The safety of those judges, and those who entered the awards, was paramount, and so we took the decision to cancel. We are so delighted to be back in 2021 and are really pleased by the positive response to the return of the awards. Everyone who entered in 2020 has been given the chance to update or ‘refresh’ their entries for judging this year.”

All the previous awards return for the 2021 programme, with the addition of a new and timely award, in the year that environmental super-summit COP26 comes to Glasgow.

The Climate Change Champion Award will be selected from the entries to all categories, if they take the optional opportunity to also enter this new award. The winner will highlight how forests and woods can mitigate the damaging impacts of climate change, adapt to the changing climate or share knowledge or raise awareness about climate change.

David McCulloch, head of award sponsor CarbonStore, a collaboration between Tilhill and Maelor Forest Nurseries, said: “CarbonStore is dedicated to helping mitigate climate change by uniting landowners keen to plant trees with companies wanting to offset their residual carbon emissions. We consider ourselves the perfect partner in sponsoring the new Climate Change Champion Award in this highly respected, well-established 
programme, especially in the year COP26 comes to Scotland.”

Tilhill’s involvement follows the creation of a new award by another forest management company, Scottish Woodlands, in 2019 for young people, whether farmers, crofters or woodland managers, aged 16–40 when entries close on 31 March. Their farm or croft’s woodland management will have exemplary use of both woodland and agricultural practice with benefits being delivered to both the farming/ crofting operation and quality of woodland management.

The inaugural award was won by Lyn Cassells and Sandra Baer for their work at Lynbreck Croft near Grantown on Spey, while the overall Farm Woodland award (open to any age) was won by John Drysdale and Kieran Kelly for Kilrie Farm, Kirkcaldy, Fife. There were three commended entries in a highly competitive field in the overall Farm Woodland Award, which is sponsored by SAC Consulting.

The wood processing sector is also well represented in the long list of awards supporters, with BSW Timber, EGGER, Iggesund Forestry and James Jones & Sons all partners in the three Quality Timber awards. The prize for New Commercial 
Woods went in 2019 to Mervyn Harrison for Beirhope, Near Hownam, Kelso (working with Tilhill), while the award for silvicultural excellence in a small wood, stand or compartment of trees went to David Shepherd and Annie Griffiths for Craggach Woods, Kirkhill, near Inverness. The Whole Estate or Forest prize for multi-purpose forestry went to Darroch Wood, Scaniport Estate, near Inverness.

The diversity of the programme is shown by Woodland Trust Scotland supporting the New Native Woods award (won in 2019 by Jahama Highland Estates, Kinlochleven) and Scottish Forestry sponsoring awards for large and small community woods, supported by the Community Woodlands Association and the Green Action Trust. The winners of the two 2019 community woodland awards demonstrate the huge geographical breadth of the Awards – Michaelswood Public Amenity, Aith, Shetland won the small community woodland group award, while Gifford Community Woodland, East Lothian – 400 miles away – won the large community woodland group competition.

Also included in the huge diversity of backers are Forestry and Land Scotland, Confor, the Institute of Chartered Foresters and the Royal Scottish Forestry Society. Outdoor & Woodland Learning Scotland provides invaluable support for the Schools Award, with the famous ‘Squirrel Trophy’ sponsored by Crown Estate Scotland. Earthtime Forest School Nursery, near Duffus, Moray, won in 2019, with Levenmouth Academy, Fife, named runnerup.

“We receive incredible support from across the whole sector,” said Angela Douglas. “Without that support, the awards simply could not go ahead and we are extremely grateful for everyone’s backing – as well as the incredibly hard work put in by our judges and trustees, all of whom are volunteers.”

While the trustees hope that judges will be able to assess sites in person by late spring/ early summer (when all shortlisted sites are usually visited), they have contingencies in place – and are planning for a virtual awards ceremony for the first time.

“We have started planning early to ensure that the emphasis on quality, but also on the very friendly and collegiate nature of the awards, can be carried into an online setting,” said Angela Douglas. “It’s new territory for us, but with all the support we have from across the forestry and wood sector, we are confident of a very successful, albeit different year.

“Scotland is leading the way in terms of woodland creation – planting 80 per cent of new trees across the UK – and we look forward to rewarding excellence for that as well as high standards of woodland management and exciting schools projects again in 2021.”

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All entries for the 2020 Awards can be carried forward to 2021, with the option to add new information, including their credentials in tackling climate change. Each category winner gets a superb trophy and £1000, apart from the Schools Award, where £500 is awarded to the winner and £250 to the runner-up, alongside additional prizes donated by Caledonia Play and Alba Trees forest nursery.

The awards are:

Climate Change Champion Award: new for 2021, an optional, extra opportunity with entries open to any 2021 or 2020 entrant to one of the established award categories. Entries are invited to show where Scotland’s forests and woodlands can have an important role in the mitigation of climate change and/or adaptation to the changing climate and/or sharing of knowledge/ information or raising awareness about climate change.

Community Woodlands Award: two competitions for both small and large community woodland groups. The Tim Stead Trophy will also be awarded to the community woodland group judged to be the best community project overall.

Farm Woodland Award: two competitions, one for an active farmer/crofter anywhere in Scotland and one for a young, active farmer/ crofter and/or their forester/woodland manager (aged 16–40 on 31 March 2021).

New Native Woods Award: a competition for new native woodland (natural regeneration or planting), using exemplary techniques.

Quality Timber Award: three competitions, for: new commercial woods; a single stand of trees or a compartment or a small wood; and a whole estate or forest.

Schools Award: tree packs and a mag post are awarded to both the winner and runner-up as well as prize money.

All entry details can be found at Deadline is 31 March, 2021, so don’t delay, apply today. You need to be in it to win it!