By Rohese Devereux Taylor

A FOREST worker who was born three days after the the newly-formed Forestry Commission planted its first trees is celebrating his own centenary as well as that of his former employers.

George Stewart, who turned 100 yesterday, was born in Glasgow in 1919 but spent holidays in Aberfoyle, where he found a deep love for nature “running wild in the woods”.

Just days before he was born in a sandstone tenement in the industrial city, the Forestry Commission planted its first crop of trees at Monaughty Forest near Elgin.

He said: “I’m a real died-in-the-wool Glaswegian ... I couldn’t have been further away from the countryside but we did go to Aberfoyle for the holidays and that gave me my first taste of the countryside and I was bewitched by it all together.”

Mr Stewart served with the Royal Artillery in World War One touring North Africa and Italy before studying forestry at Edinburgh University.

A proud district officer for the south Scotland conservancy – training in Lockerbie and then taking up a position in Langholm in the Scottish Borders – Mr Stewart worked for the Forestry Commission for 30 years before retiring in 1979.

Working for Forest Research took him south of the border to the north west of England before he returned to his homeland to take up the position of conservator for the west of Scotland.

During his tenure he witnessed the development of the agency that manages publicly-owned forests and regulates both private and public bodies of woodland, now managed by two Scottish Government bodies, Forestry and Land Scotland and Scottish Forestry.

His forestry career covered the great post-WWII expansion of forestry, the development of innovative forest research and technical development, the rise of the private forestry sector, the expansion of recreation and conservation objectives, and the devolution vote in Scotland in 1979 and its potential implications for forestry governance

Mr Stewart remembers well the devastation of the forests after a hurricane swept the central belt in January 1968, felling thousands of trees, and was responsible for organising the response to the Great Storm.

He said: “We had an enormous area which was blown flat. I remember with great clarity standing on a hill and seeing in front of me an entire plantation of perhaps 100 acres with every tree lying flat on the ground exactly one after the other., all in the same direction.

“It was a terrible sight so the great problem we had was clearing all that timber up before it began to rot. It took about two years to do it.”

Established following the passing of the Forestry Act of 1919, the Forestry Commission mobilised a vast new workforce.

Working for the commission was an honour for Mr Stewart, who sees it as a vital source of rural employment.

He said: “First thing about the Forestry and me is I chose it to be my profession and I think it was a very wise choice for a young man to make. The Forestry has always been this wonderful countryside in which we live and that’s a great privilege and it’s a privilege that we don’t appreciate enough.

“The Forestry plays its part in the countryside, trees and woods, small forests, big forests - it’s all part of the wonderful countryside that we have but I very much believe that the countryside must be a living countryside where people live and work, not only enjoy it but find employment there.

“The Forestry Commission plays a very big part in providing employment in this countryside of ours. I like to think of the countryside with all its wonderful wildlife as being part of all that we have and enjoy and the privilege of living in it.”

Although officially retiring in 1979, Mr Stewart served as chair of the Scottish Wildlife Trust as well as on the council of the National Trust for Scotland. He has been a member of the Royal Scottish Forestry Society since 1949 and was made an honorary vice president there earlier this year.