Evolution for Forest Engineering in Spain

Forest engineering in Spain has a long tradition and active presence in the engineering field. It is also one of the first educational institutions that shaped the Spanish technological panorama in the mid nineteenth century. The actual situation of the forest systems in Spain is the result of 166 years of observation, research, education and the application of specific techniques and principles that forest engineers acquired with the successive study plans that were implanted in educational institutions.

The Spanish laws called “desamortizadoras” of the nineteenth century led to serious economic, social and environmental consequences for forest wealth, among which we can highlight: a strong breakdown of traditional use systems and a drastic change of land uses due to an irrational practice of plowing and deforestations of hundreds of thousands of hectares of forest area.

Because of this situation, at the time arises among intellectuals and educated classes, the spirit of reconciling economic development with the natural balance, looking for forestry production of goods and services within the limits imposed by nature. The need to seek the replacement of atavistic routine methods in the growing and harvesting of trees also arose, for those the experience and the application of natural science proved most appropriate.

By the 30 April 1835 Royal Decree (RD), the Forests Corps were created. A day later, on May 1, another RD created the Special School of Forest Engineers, but political and economic upheavals of the time delayed their entry into operation. By RD, the 18 November 1846 the School of Forestry was established “as a means of promoting the cultivation and conservation of forests and plantations”.

First stage (1847-1899): practical training based on naturalism

On August 18, 1847 the Organic Regulations of the School are published, and it received the final name of Special School of Forestry Engineering, and the first curriculum of the degree is established. The studies lasted for four years and the subjects were distributed as follows:

The school was opened in Villaviciosa on January 2, 1848, under the motto “to know is to do” that already guides the practical nature that permanently endow the formation of its graduates.

Through the RD of May 18, 1862 a new regulation of the School so the studies got extended to reach the level of other Spanish and foreign schools was approved. The curriculum was still structured in four years and new subjects were included within the field of civil engineering and the study of more naturalistic subjects, with the inclusion of special subjects such as Forestry and Land Organization. The increased number of subjects, without considering the increased number of courses, provoked a strong protest that called to distribute current studies in at least five years.

The prestigious professor of botany Maximum Laguna wrote:

“If you have to study all subjects it is necessary for them to be distributed in five years because you cannot expect a young person to leave the school and with little practice, be a good botanist or forester” (Laguna, 1866).

The nineteenth century ends with this situation. The most eminent forest academics of this century advocated that the core of the teaching of Forest Engineering should be Forestry, Forest Management, Forest Products Industry and Climate Science.

In the year 1885, because an immediate reform of teaching, the first disagreement about whether the training of Forestry Engineers should be more naturalistic or more technological arose. Most of the most significant engineers were positioned in favor of naturalistic training as JM Castellarnau in his opinions always insisted that the mistake in which he fell was in seeking similarities with other schools.

“What we would like is that education is School creates naturalists, not because we believe that exact natural sciences are better or worse, but because we believe they are the best for Forest Engineers” (Castellarnau, 1885)

Second stage (1900-1944): towards a more productivist approach

With the arrival of the new century, forest teachings faced a new review. A new regulation RD on the 23 September 1902 is published, which states “The new reorganization of the teaching should be geared towards improving and enhancing national forest wealth, incorporating modern advances in science and applying technical studies”. In the next stage the duration of the studies is set to 6 years.

Third stage (1945-1999): a technology specialist training

On October 12, 1945 the University City of Madrid was inaugurated, as well as the new School of Forestry, where it sits today.  The new Curriculum 1948 is updated with the reality of the country, which after the Civil War and World War II begins to have a visible social, technological and economic development. With the new political regime, the services of forest bodies acquire a strong impulse and development. At the same time the processing industry of forest products and construction began a major boost, providing a strong demand for graduates who begin to develop their career in the private and industrial sector.

A major innovation that occurred was the emergence of the specialties within the degree, with a clear differentiation between the educational content. The specialties of Forestry, Forest Industries and Holdings remained, with slight nominal changes over time.

Curricula resulting from the significant reforms promoted by the 2 Laws were: Curriculum 1964 (B) of Forestry Engineers organized studies in 6 academic courses with the 2 specialties. The training content silvopastoralism specialty remained the classic degree with slight modifications. It is within the industry specialty where a great innovation occurs by including technological character subjects such as Thermodynamics, Thermal Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Technology, Electronics and Control Systems, Wood chemistry, technology of cellulose, among other. The Curriculum called Plan 1964-a (74) remained in force until the end of the century with few modifications.

Stage (since 2000): forest engineering in the EHEA

At the end of the Twentieth Century, in 1999 the Bologna Declaration is created in order to produce common European Higher Education. This demands new international models (Guerrero et al, 2013) of educational innovation based on competences and aptitudes; it implies new course designs and new learning objectives, affecting both teachinglearning methodologies and evaluation (De los Rios et al, 2011).

In 2003, Spanish universities who taught Forest Engineering studies got integrated into a working group to conduct the studies and analysis needed to develop a White Paper on Degrees on Agricultural Engineering and Forestry Engineering. For the first time the design of forest qualifications and their training content were the result of proper planning and working methods that involved all stakeholders (Universities, Professional, Industrial and Productive Sectors, etc).

The result regarding the qualifications within the scope of cyclic education was a Bachelor’s degree on Forestry and Natural Environment Engineering and a Master’s Degree in Forestry Engineering after passing the Degree.

In the year 2010-2011 the new Degree was implemented in different Spanish universities, and in most cases the name adopted was bachelor on Forest Engineering.


The teachings of Forest Engineering in Spain have had since the mid-nineteenth century to the present, an active and dynamic process, sensitive to economic, political and technological changes, as well as subject to constant revision and adaptation in response to these changes.

In a first step these teachings were characterized by a strong naturalistic orientation attributable to the scientific thought of the first academics. It was naturalism based on the application of science to the management of forest systems and is identified by the presence of materials of this profile as well as the practical character of the studies.

In a second stage, due to the economic requirements of the country and to the academic influence over other technical engineering education, the teachings, maintaining the naturalistic conception, acquired a productivist character to include more technological content.

The third stage is characterized by its integrated approach towards social, technical and economic development, with a boost of technological content that reached its maximum exponent with the creation of the specialties approach.

In the fourth and final stage, forest teachings were structured so as to be comparable at European level and to promote employability. They have kept their specific content and have incorporated subjects related to environmental technologies in order to respond to current environmental requirements.

Source: Javier Zazo Muncharaza, Ignacio de los Rios Carmenadob ,Maria Rivera. Education Planning Evolution for Forest Engineering in Spain 7th World Conference on Educational Sciences, (WCES-2015), 05-07 February 2015, Novotel Athens Convention Center, Athens, Greece

Main Image: Isaac Sanz. Shield of the School of Forestry Engineers and Natural Resources

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