The End of the Beginning.

Good old Churchill always did put things well, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end, but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning” (Churchill, 1942). The quote is from his famous victory speech after the battle he named the ‘Battle of Egypt’. And I allow myself to use those hallowed words to mark my victorious emergence from the grad scheme with a new exciting Forestry Commission England position! Since the 1st of August I have no longer been Ruth Wilson Graduate Trainee, rather I became Ruth Wilson Project Manager of the Forestry Commission Centenary Book. I am delighted and very much looking forward to all the new challenges ahead.

Increasingly aware that my time on the graduate scheme was coming to an end I have spent the last few months thinking about what would be the best next step for me. I knew I wanted to stay with the FC, and so I considered and applied for a couple of roles, but all the while I felt very frustrated and sad to be leaving behind my involvement in the Centenary Book. The book is being written by members of FC staff to celebrate the upcoming centenary of the organisation in 2019. The publication of anniversary books is an aspect of FC history I greatly admire, with books being published for the 50th and 75th anniversaries as well – a tradition I am very passionate about continuing. Since January I have been project managing the book’s creation alongside my project management of the New Guidance Framework and various other projects. It has proved to be an incredibly fulfilling and interesting project, exposing me as it has to so many aspects of the organisation, forest history and culture, to many experienced members of staff whose knowledge on their specialist subject has deeply impressed me and to the complexities of organising such a wide-ranging project. However, though I was loathe to leave the project behind, and put off thinking about my post-grad scheme role as long as I could, I knew as the months were ticking past that I needed to secure a position for myself as the end was approaching. Then all of a sudden I was offered this role, in fact it was on the very same day that I was interviewing for another position which meant I was in a strange state of post-interview shock at the time and barely able take in the details! So everything has worked out beautifully and I will be on board to see the book become a finished article and a physical testament to the history and achievements of the Forestry Commission and its staff over the last hundred years. The role will also involve my becoming involved in the wider centenary celebrations being planned for 2019 to celebrate the glorious anniversary, which I am very much looking forward to.

Over the past two years I have been involved in a very varied selection of roles/projects/work including:

  • Helping on the North Walk Beat of the New Forest
  • Fulfilling the Works Supervisor Role on the South Downs Beat
  • Managing Christmas Tree Sales at Queen Elizabeth County Park
  • Working on the Web Summaries Project in the Planning Department in South District
  • Project Managing the New Guidance Framework
  • Creating and Delivering a Workshop Presentation for users of the New Guidance
  • Managing Communications for the IT Team
  • Project Managing the FC Centenary Book
  • Co-chairing the Site Safety and Evacuation Procedures Working Group
  • and of course – Creating and Writing The Blonde Forester Blog

As you can see the grad scheme offers a wealth of possibilities, very varied experiences and a plethora of opportunities to be involved in all sorts of FC work. There are so many possibilities and so much exposure to the business offered on the scheme, and I feel the excellent grounding it has given me will stand me in strong stead going forwards. During my two years I have worked with far too many colleagues to mention and thank them all individually here, but I would still like to use this opportunity to thank them collectively for their advice, support, patience (especially in the face of my endless questions as I sought to learn all I could) and above all for the skills and techniques they taught me as I learned on the job. A standout feature of the organisation for me has been the discovery that FC staff are so amazingly friendly – from district to national office I have been met with nothing but enthusiasm and encouragement. The staff belonging to an organisation act as a testament to its ethos and operating practices, and I can absolutely say that FC staff are the greatest resource possessed of the Commission, and I am incredibly proud to now be officially counted among their number. I am proud that I will be able to help celebrate not only the achievements of the Commission in the Centenary Book, but also the incredible successes and stories of its staff over the last hundred years.

The future looks promisingly filled with challenge and interest, my pet tortoise Soames and I will continue our stay of residence in the great city of Bristol, and it is time for me to realise I am no longer a graduate trainee! I would like to thank all of my readers in this, my final blog post. I have loved writing this blog, but I established it with three very definite goals in mind – to provide information on the very varied work carried out by the FC, to spread information on the forestry industry in general and most importantly to follow my journey through the graduate scheme, using it to promote the scheme and to offer information about it. Thus as I finish my graduate journey so too does the blog, and this will be the last post of The Blonde Forester. The blog will continue to reside online, where I hope it can act as a source of information to potential grad schemers in the future, and indeed to anyone interested in the organisation, but it will no longer be updated. So thank you dear readers, and I wish you many happy walks in our glorious woods and forests.

The Search is On!

The search is on for a brand new graduate to join the Forestry Commission in England! It is such exciting news! The graduate scheme has altered slightly since I joined, and is now searching the land far and wide for a graduate who studied science (related to the environment or land management), civil engineering, forestry or business. The new recruit will then spend their first year in the South District in Lyndhurst, just like I did, before moving to another district or National Office in Bristol for their second year of the scheme.

All details are here: https://www.forestry.gov.uk/graduate

I am so enjoying my own time on the graduate programme, and I can’t wait to see another grad join. The learning experiences on offer are so varied, the opportunities to learn are endless and the possibilities involved are second to none. While the Forestry Commission itself is a fantastic organisation to become a part of; filled as it is with knowledgeable, enthusiastic and hard working individuals all passionate about caring for the Public Forest Estate on behalf of the nation.

I heartily recommend the scheme to anyone with an interest in forestry, even if you haven’t worked in the industry before. As this blog has shown I entered the commission with a degree in Ancient History, a background in agriculture and no forestry experience at all! But what I did have, and still do, is a real passion for the ethos and work undertaken by the Forestry Commission. Its work spans many different fields, but ultimately it is committed to caring for, preserving and expanding the wonderful woodlands of England, and that is something I feel very proud to be a part of.

The application process this year:

Stage One: Apply online: http://www.best-graduates.co.uk/vacancies/vacancy-details.aspx?VacancyID=1219

Stage Two: Competency based telephone interview

Stage Three: Numerical and verbal tests online

Stage Four: Assessment day including final interview

 

I well remember when I myself started the application process for the graduate scheme: lots of tests, an assessment day and of course the much dreaded final interview! With each new stage passed reaching the goal seemed just a little more possible, and by the day of my final interview I was terribly nervous as I had so identified with the role on offer that I badly wanted to be successful. Applying for anything involves a curious mix of confidence and nerves. Both are very much needed, but the balance between the pair is all important: not confident enough in your own abilities and you don’t show your strengths, but without sufficient nervous energy willing you on to succeed you lack the necessary passion for the job… What I am inarticulately trying to say is that for a graduate position like this passion and drive are just as important as your base of skills. Knowledge and experience will come with time on the job, but enthusiasm and a desire to learn cannot be replicated.

I want to wish all potential candidates enormous good luck with the application process.

Out of the Woodwork.

It is my very great pleasure today to tell you all about a fantastic new Forestry Commission blog called ‘Out of the Woodwork’! Written by a colleague of mine from Forestry Commission England’s tree health team called Katherine Deeks, it focuses on tree health and is full of brilliantly interesting information on tree pests, diseases and how to combat them. These threats are not just a problem to growing trees, but can also be a threat to timber, even to objects made of timber as a slightly creepy picture in the blog shows – in which an Asian Longhorn Beetle has burrowed deeply into a clock…

Link to ‘Out of the Woodwork’ : https://outofthewoodwork.blog/

‘Out of the Woodwork’ is already up and running and will feature guest bloggers, as well as industry experts out-with the organisation. Tree health is an incredibly important issue, now more than ever, and I am delighted to see a blog covering this issue. Not least because I am learning all sorts of things from it such as the crucial importance of the FC’s Keep it Clean Campaign. The campaign seeks to raise awareness amongst us all about the importance of visitors to the woods (of all kinds – walkers, cyclists, drivers) cleaning their boots/tyres before and after each visit. This helps to stop the spread of pests and diseases to other woods, and can make a big impact in containing disease, and thus the ability to treat it quickly and effectively.

Keep it Clean Logo strapline

www.forestry.gov.uk/england-keepitclean

Really it is just like a battlefield with the forces for tree health from the Forestry Commission, and other plant health authorities, ranged on one side ready to combat tree pests and diseases in order to save our glorious woods from harm. And we are all able to play our part to support them – Kat is spreading the word through her blog by raising awareness of this campaign, and we can all play our part by heeding her advice. By reporting trees that look ill, or simply by cleaning our wellies after visiting a wood, we can all help fight tree disease.

IT and Augustus.

The fog misted around me so dreadfully heavy and thick, the poor trees in the distance submerged by it even as it provided a glorious backdrop to those nearby. Definitely a waterproof jacket sort of a day, and of course a forester is always prepared so I was able to smugly open the car boot and select a dashing little number in a rather fetching shade of bright luminous yellow. Alas there was no excuse to wear the matching hard hat in the same shade… but I consoled myself and walked happily into the fog as I made my way into Westonbirt Arboretum.

 

Westonbirt welcomed me back last week in the midst of all the fog as I attended an IT Team meeting. Since moving to National Office last summer I have worked on a variety of different projects for various departments, and one role I have worked on throughout has been the Communications strategy for the IT Team. As such I have always attended their team meetings, and I sit within their department in the office. On the graduate scheme, because you are often working on such diverse subjects and with people all over England, it can feel just a little lonely so for me it is lovely to be included within an actual team. IT was one of many services that operated from Silvan House in Edinburgh when the commission incorporated both England and Scotland, but as the business is transitioning into two separate entities England is creating its own IT Team for the FC in England.

When I started with the IT Team upon my Bristol move last summer they were freshly formed and brand new, though some of the members had already been with the FC for years in other roles. It has been terrific over the months to witness the growth in team spirit, and the sheer enthusiasm for all the IT related improvements planned for the years to come. As part of my Communications strategy for the team I devised a plan for a recurring series of articles written by members of the department which are published in an FC in-house magazine called Bark. They are published monthly and I often work with the author on the content. I really enjoy the articles as depending on which colleague is responsible they introduce such different and interesting subjects, while at the same time conveying their enthusiasm to the wider FC.

Work has been jolly busy since the start of the year and I am relishing the chance to work hard in the name of forestry! I do sometimes rather long to be out in the woods involved in working with the actual trees, my workplace the forest floor and not the office. However, management of England’s glorious woodlands requires so many different facets, aspects and types of work and it is important to remember that even those of us who work physically distantly from the woods are making an equally strong contribution to the overall management of the commission and its beautiful forests. After all the smooth running of the Roman Empire relied on the neat interflow of a great variety of roles and positions from scribes to lawmakers, soldiers to farmers. And during the third century crisis one could argue that the over-reliance placed on military skill alone contributed strongly to the decline of the great Roman Empire (though dear old Giibbon had rather different ideas on this). After all in the first century the wonderful Octavian became the great and respected Augustus despite not demonstrating the military might to lead his own troops into battle. Instead his great strengths lay in management and overseeing everything so that it fit perfectly together. Or if you spend too long in the world of ‘I, Claudius’ you start to believe it was really the Empress Livia who did all the managing… I have always been susceptible to the tales of her influence over the empire as spread by Tacitus, Suetonius and Dio, for they make for such a fantastic story. However, there is little doubt for me that Augustus was truly a great leader, emperor and strategic thinker even allowing for the brilliance of the wonderful Livia. For the prominence given to the alleged schemes and plots of Livia in the ancient sources were likely a direct attempt by their authors to diminish Augustus and subtly attack his legacy. I am sorely tempted to conclude by likening the joint logo of the FC, featuring as it does a broadleaf alongside a conifer, to the distinctly different qualities of that magnificent couple sitting together in Rome so long ago… but I fear that would be stretching the benevolence of even my tolerant readers to near breaking point!

Mining in the Forest.

Happy New Year one and all! 2017 is now well underway and it is so exciting wondering what joys and delights it will have in store! After a wonderfully relaxing break back home on the farm over the festive period I am now back in the thick of things and working hard in the office once again. This time of year is of great moment for me personally as my adorable tortoise Soames will be waking up from his winter hibernation any day now and I can’t wait to see him again! He is very young and so only hibernates for around ten weeks, I am not looking forward to him growing older when I can expect to part with him for several months… When he emerges from his deep sleep I will feel that though some way off Spring is most definitely on its way. 

My working year got off to a great start with an excellent day of training on some new software (I am now able to make wonderfully complicated diagrams and organograms) followed by a two day trip to the Forest of Dean which sits within the Forestry Commission’s West District. I was accompanying senior staff members from around the country on the visit with the purpose of sharing information and participating in in-depth discussion around forestry practices as we made site visits to different locations in the Forest of Dean and examined different habitats and terrains. It was incredibly interesting not just in terms of forestry, but also for the unique history of the forest. I had been used to the Verderers’ Court in the New Forest and had vaguely expected the Verderers’ Court of the Dean to work along the same lines, but they are very different indeed. Not least because the Dean has a large population of wild boar, whereas the New Forest has its ponies roaming around. I even stayed in the hotel where the Verderers’ Court in the Dean is found which was rather a thrill! The office of Verderer has existed in the Dean since the 13th century, and from the 17th century the court has been held in a building known as The Speech House which still stands and is now a hotel. Though the building was extended in the 19th century the Verderers’ Court was largely left unaltered. It was built with funds from the Treasury and has always been owned by the Crown. Interestingly what seems to have dictated the most significant differences is the mining culture inherent to the Forest of Dean. Before my visit I had been aware that the surrounding area had once been the site of several mines, but I had no idea of the rich culture within the forest itself relating to the mining culture and community. If you meet certain strict criteria, including having been born within the forest boundary – or specifically ‘the Hundred of St Briavels’, you can gain the status of Free Miner and have the right to mine your own patch called a gale. The regulations surrounding this, as well as the health and safety issues, fall under the remit of the Deputy Gaveller who works for the Forestry Commission, an office that has been in place since 1926. It was so interesting to get such snippets of the history and community within the forest and reminded me strongly how important the communities that build up within and surrounding a forest are even in the present age. Perhaps it stems from my own upbringing in the agricultural countryside community, but I feel strongly about the importance of such communities and am eager to see them continue long into the future. 

My visit to the Forest of Dean also meant that I was in a district once more. Such visits are increasingly drawing my thoughts to my next career steps following the end of the graduate scheme as I ponder not only what type of role I would like, but also which office or location I would like to base myself from. Alas I didn’t get the chance to see a wild boar during my visit which might just have swung my focus determinedly to point due West!

Pliny and Fungi.

I wrote the following post in October but work became very busy and delayed my finishing the post until now. I could have just scrapped it completely but I was so impressed by my visit to Westonbirt Arboretum that I really wanted to share it: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt

The nights are drawing in, my pet tortoise is readying himself for hibernation and the time has come for me to look out my woolly hats again (not least for the office where it can be surprisingly chilly temperature wise!). But I will restrain myself and not quote that marvellous television show regarding the approach of the cold… Travel galore for me recently including a Heads of Land Management meeting in Birmingham where I presented on the status of the New Guidance Framework, a training course over on the East Coast, a really productive meeting regarding the Recreation guidance in Fineshade and a jolly informative site visit about fungi with my mentor Jonathan. My eyes were opened to the amazing and often rather disgusting world of fungi… gosh they are ingenious with their colonisation and reproduction through tiny spores. It was fascinating learning about the different types, how they have a whole network of a thread-like structure called mycelium under the ground and the dangerous ones to watch out for and avoid eating. Growing up a very dear family friend was always eager that I take an interest in the natural world, and during these meetings with Jonathan where I learn so much about it I am often reminded of my friend, and I think to myself how pleased he would be about it.

I truly value such trips into the woods now that I am working in National Office. I adore being outside in the fresh air surrounded by the glories of nature and stomping along in my muddy wellies. I spent a very productive and informative day at Westonbirt Arboretum a few weeks ago where I introduced the new guidance framework to a group of colleagues. I hadn’t presented for some time so it was great to flex my public speaking skills again, and really interesting and helpful to hear the thoughts of others around the new framework. A crucial aspect of the whole project is engaging colleagues with it, not simply those involved in the process of creating the new guidance documents, but also the wider organisation as every staff member uses a different range of guidance documents depending on their role. After a very productive meeting I had the opportunity to learn a little about Westonbirt, the flagship arboretum of the Forestry Commission in England. It was fascinating and I greatly enjoyed being shown around and hearing all about the various projects currently being undertaken.

Westonbirt is such a great example of the remarkable beauty of our tree species for it boasts a remarkable number of them. It has tree species from all over the world, all carefully grouped in different locations and each one an excellent example of its type. I was enchanted by the Treetop Walkway which extends 300 metres at a height of 13 metres off the ground, so one is actually up high among the trees. The views were spectacular and the arboretum covers such a huge area that I must admit I did get just a little lost at one stage! Wandering along I felt rather like Pliny the Elder (not to be confused with his nephew Pliny the Younger that prolific writer of letters) who took such a delight in writing about all the different species of plant, mineral etc he knew of in his Natural History. Oh how Pliny would adore Westonbirt! He would be utterly spoilt for choice as to material for his Natural History and all within walking distance too. I must say he seems to have done jolly well with the limited resources at his command, but oh how he would have got stuck into the range of tree species known to us today. Though personally I always preferred the little nuggets of superfluous information and gossip he slipped into his descriptions above the actual information on nature. I will never forgot the marvellous details regarding Nero’s wife Poppaea and her predilection for shodding her mules with gold!

In fact perhaps I should use Pliny more often and start now by looking up his information on fungi to complement my recently gained knowledge? The only problem with this idea is that I have previously found out to my peril that what was solid information a mere couple of thousand years ago is not always sufficiently up-to-date enough for the modern world… This remains a problem of mine geography wise for though I can show you perfectly ably the territory lines and battle sites from ancient history, and even some of the middle ages, I am dreadful with modern geography. I can show you perfectly well Charlemagne’s old empire or the course of Alexander the Great’s campaign, even the battle of Odessa will see a pin quickly put in the map, but ask me where a British town is and you will find me reaching for Google. I blame my devotion to ancient and medieval history, but on a recent business trip this did not alleviate my suffering when my satnav broke and I was left with my historical knowledge to guide me on a three hour car journey… And so I rather fear that allowing myself the delights of Pliny might not take into account more recent scientific progress on certain subjects, and end up leaving me somewhat behind modern thought!

A Potted Anniversary.

This date is a very momentous one – exactly one year ago today I posted the very first post from The Blonde Forester!!! It has been such a successful and exciting year, both for myself and the blog, and it is time to celebrate! I thought long and hard as to the best, most fitting way, to celebrate the first anniversary of my beloved blog and then of course it hit me – what could be more fitting than planting a tree sapling to mark the occasion. So at the weekend I planted my very own Scots pine sapling in a lovely pot and marked it with the date and occasion. The response to the blog has been so wonderful and I am proud to say viewer numbers grow ever higher with hundreds or thousands of hits every month. It all started when I joined the FC’s grad scheme and wanted to share my passion and enthusiasm for forestry and the commission with the wider world, and I am so proud to be accomplishing that aim.

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Anniversary sapling.

Who would have thought, as I started to type last year, that I would have spent the year covering such a diverse number of topics – from badgers and bluebells to fungi and Pliny, Rackham and Peterkin to Natural Capital and broadleaves to conifers, this blog truly has it all! It even indulges in my love of Classics and never am I happier than when I can combine both Silviculture and Classics together. I like to think my beloved Suetonius and Tacitus would not be disappointed with me -though I expect the former would prefer the inclusion of indiscrete gossip and the latter rather more dates and facts… but then I believe I am the only one of the three of us to write about Silviculture and so any such complaints would fall upon deaf ears. Around the time I started to plan this blog I made myself a private promise – I promised myself that I would soon start reading the ancient historians for pleasure. During my time at university I studied them in depth and enjoy it though I did, there is a great difference in reading for study and for pleasure. So after planting my little Scots Pine I thought it would be the perfect way of quietly celebrating the blog to start reading Suetonius again, this time simply for the joy of his descriptions and wonderfully amusing accounts of Roman life. I also put aside the Oxford translation I got for university and gleefully picked up the Robert Graves translation (the Oxford translation is deemed to be more academically correct as to the translation of particular words, phrases etc) which has a brilliant turn of phrase and imbues the book with Graves’ particular charm on top of that of Suetonius. And so the journey from Classics to Silviculture was suitably celebrated with a combination of both!

Thank you all very much for reading the blog, and I hope you continue to follow my adventures as I progress onwards in my journey through the Forestry Commission’s Graduate Development Scheme.

Autumn Descends.

As the glories of Autumn descend and the leaves start to turn beautiful shades of orange it becomes time to bundle up ready for the cold, and venture into the woods once more. Every season has its highlights but surely there are few sights more beautiful than an autumnal wood: leaves floating down from the trees all around you, and the heavenly squelch of the mud underfoot. Things are still rather green here in Bristol but I cannot wait for the orange tinges to start bursting through. In fact I discovered that the FC even has an interactive feature on its website where you can rate the changing warm autumnal colours wood by wood: http://www.forestry.gov.uk/autumn-colour-map. It is strange to think I have now been with the FC for well over a year, I still remember so vividly starting last summer in the New Forest. But this will actually be my second Autumn working in forestry. It isn’t until I make myself stop and think about it that I realise how quickly the time is passing, and that by next summer I will have finished the grad scheme and (hopefully) be in a real job position!

With that new horizon approaching in less than a year I am now asked fairly often where I want to be next summer, which role/department/district etc. The honest answer is that I am still enjoying the grad scheme so much, especially now I am leading on the new guidance framework (naming it Onodrim, as mentioned in my last post, has so far not gained much traction!), that I find it rather tough to think about. The grad scheme offers so many opportunities to gain access and exposure to such varied and interesting aspects of the organisation that I am in no rush to leave it, and am focused on gaining as much information from it as I can. However, naturally it will end next summer and so what will I do next? It will be up to me to apply for positions within the FC, just like any other member of staff, but gosh what would I like to do next, whereabouts in the country will it be and what sort of team will I become a part of? I myself have no firm ideas yet, but what I can say for sure is that whatever post I am successful in gaining by next summer it will definitely be interesting, worthwhile and challenging. As to where it will be or what sort of work it will involve – that is up to Silvanus, god of forests.

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Me with Naomi, Angelika and Beth.

 

At this stage of my grad scheme journey, as I start to contemplate the road ahead post scheme, it was especially helpful to get the chance to meet up with some of my fellow grads recently. I was in Edinburgh in Silvan House for a meeting last month and it was wonderful to get the chance to see three of the grads again. I met with Angelika and Beth who were previously on the grad scheme, and with Naomi who started at the same time as me. It was so helpful to share experiences and particularly to hear how happy the former grad schemers are in the FC having found exciting positions after the scheme. We are all doing such varied things it was fascinating to hear more about their job roles. Naomi and I may have started at the same time, but with her posted to Scottish Districts we have been involved in very different projects. She is currently working alongside the private and public sectors delivering the Forestry Grant Scheme. The scheme is concerned with woodland improvement and creation in and around towns, and also ensures regulations like felling licences are being adhered to UK Forestry Standards. Meanwhile Angelika and Beth were the intake before us and so have already finished the grad scheme. Angelika is a Visitor Services Manager in Glentress in Scotland and developing forest based tourism to ensure visitors are provided with an excellent and inspiring experience. Beth is now Project Officer in Delamere where she manages Forest Nursery treatments for hylobius abietis, is involved with Forest Research trials and other Nursery projects. So three very different roles and experiences to complement my own as I think about my future journey in the FC. In fact it is incredible when one thinks about the sheer diversity of roles former grads have gone on to fill, so who knows  what I will end up doing!

 

Mid-September saw me leave the office for a day to attend APF 2016, the UK’s largest forestry, woodland and arboricultural show. It was absolutely huge! So many stalls, participants (it was estimated around 18,000 people attended over the three days), exhibitors, machinery, and of course the attendance of many from the Forestry Commission. Members of staff ran our tent, exhibitions, arranged presentations and discussions and provided a wonderful promotion of the FC to other forestry industry professionals and the public. The FC had its own large tent where different departments ran exhibitions on particular aspects of forestry such as the Keep it Clean campaign which promotes the cleaning of footwear, tyres and clothing between forestry sites to help stop the spread of pests and diseases. There was also a super display in the centre of the tent around the Grown in Britain campaign. The overarching theme for the FC tent was the Making Woodlands Work campaign, which is all about long-term woodland management and highlights the many benefits of appropriately managed woodland : http://www.forestry.gov.uk/forestry/beeh-9zkhb7. We also had demonstrations of an exciting new piece of software being used by the FC and developed by Forest Research called ESC 4 (Ecological Site Classification) which helps users to better plan what tree species is most ecologically viable to plant in different locations, taking into account projected climate change factors. It was great to see this software being promoted to such a large potential audience as it promises to be a great aid to foresters. I got the opportunity to try out the software myself recently and found it comprehensive and full of valuable information.

I got a great deal out of my day at the show – learning all sorts of technicalities about various new pieces of forestry equipment and talking to forestry experts at their various stalls about superbly esoteric aspects of forestry. I particularly enjoyed discussing carbon offsetting, hearing more about the logistics of transporting timber, learning all about truffle trees and attending a Forestry Commission talk on squirrels. There were lots of things to watch and learn about – the show even had timber carving competitions happening on the day as well as brave people dashing up very high timber poles as they raced each other! I also came away with some lovely freebies – a Scots Pine sapling, wooden pens, pencils made out of Scots Pine and lots of leaflets. Naturally not the most important aspect of the day but always jolly nice to leave with a momento!

Onodrim.

It has been a very busy month as I continue to settle into my new role here in National Office. I have been introduced to lots of new colleagues, and because it is such a big office and summer holiday time there is always someone new to meet which is lovely. I also now feel like a fully-fledged member of staff in Bristol with my very own brand new staff pass! I have started attending all sorts of meetings with different teams as I join various projects and initiatives, and am getting stuck into loads of work. I have a huge amount of work spanning several different departments, but my key focus currently is on the development of the Operational Guidance Booklets (OGBs) into new guidance online. I am now leading this exciting new project as Project Manager which is a terrific opportunity for me, as well as incredibly worthwhile work. Rather a full diary of work is the result, but I am definitely happiest when busy so I am enjoying it all very much. Especially so as I really like having the ability to switch between different subjects as the need demands, keeping me always alert and on my toes for any new developments.

My new role with the development of the OGBs into new guidance will involve plenty of travel around the country spreading the word as I also gather opinions about the new project. Recently I was in Central District in the Fineshades FC office for a meeting on the new guidance for Forest Planning. I had to catch a train at a dreadfully early time of the morning but it was worth it. Most importantly of course for the crucial feedback and information the meeting provided me for the new guidance, but it was also most pleasing to visit Fineshades itself which is beautiful! Made of Cotswolds honey yellow stone and incorporating a café and bike facilities for the public it was well worth seeing. It even reminded me of the glories of Queen’s House as I relished being out in a district office once more. The meeting in Fineshades was with Central colleagues and structured around discussion of OGB36 – Forest Design Planning. I felt very thankful that I had spent so long working on the web summaries for Forest Design Plans while in the South as naturally the discussion was highly technical, but it was also jolly interesting as lots of ideas came to the forefront surrounding the way in which FDPs are written in different districts and the ways in which OGBs are used. I have only worked in one district thus far, and it is wonderful having the chance to visit the other five districts and meet colleagues there. The districts have many similarities, but the vastly differing topographies, tree species, focus (some towards harvesting and others more heavily towards recreation) and landscape provide excellent exposure to me of different types of forest management. As part of my management of the new guidance I will be visiting all six districts to hold meetings ensuring that opinions are being heard and incorporated when the new guidance is written.

It is such an exciting time to be involved with the new guidance project – I have become involved at such a crucial stage as the new guidance is in the early stages of being written. In fact I am currently working on rewriting three of the old OGBs myself which is very challenging and seemed horribly daunting to begin with, but it is jolly satisfying covering the screen with your own text and elucidating the pivotal issues. Last week I completed the first draft of one of them and felt so proud and pleased… until I contemplated the sheer number of others that remain to be worked on! Redeveloping them is a country-wide project and involves so many different facets to its delivery that there are terrific opportunities for me to develop my skills and experience. Developing the new guidance involves researching a great deal of different fields, not least the legislation involved. The FC is legally obliged to follow all sorts of legislation relating to all our many different functions, duties and activities. Alongside this the FC must abide by government policy and standards set by the forestry industry such as UKWAS and FISA. In addition the FC has its own policies of good practice to contribute to this mix. So in order to amalgamate all of these laws, policies and official standards the FC created the OGBs – Operational Guidance Booklets. There is an OGB for everything, such as Chainsaw Management, Planting Density, Equality and Diversity and the list goes on. These OGBs are crucial to keeping us all working in the correct and approved manner in every situation, and indeed have been invaluable to me as sources of information on practices within the FC. I well remember my time as Works Supervisor when I was making site visits to contractors – I always had my OGBs in the van and would stop at the entrance to a site to have a quick read and make sure I knew what I was checking for on site!

The OGBs have been crucial to the FC’s success, but as the FC devolves its central services, due to the devolution of the Scottish and English Forestry Commissions, it is necessary for us to take a new approach. My colleague Dominic has been spearheading this project as we seek to ensure we are providing FC staff with concise and user friendly guidance. I am now working with him as Project Manager as we work to amalgamate a lot of separate guidance to provide the best possible support on the wide range of subjects the OGBs currently cover.

I continue to call the new OGBs ‘new guidance’ because we haven’t yet settled on a name for them. I have well over 50 names jotted down as possible, but although Dom was very polite about them I am not sure he is going to change his mind and accept such wonderful titles as Knowledge Relascopes, Timber Stacks, The Forester’s Repository or even The Silvicultural Portal… My personal favourite is currently The Onodrim Portal, with the OGBs being Onodrims and numbered sequentially. Oh how lovely to say I was off to look up The Onodrim Portal to read Onodrim 3! Onodrim translates as tree-host and so I think it would be rather perfect… Alas I am sure the new name will be chosen in a formal meeting where I fear my suggestions may not meet with universal approval!

The Blonde Forester in Bristol.

It is the dawn of a new era, this Roman Centurion has completed the long and wearisome journey to Rome, cart loaded down with all worldly possessions and friends bid farewell, the great city at the heart of the empire shines on the horizon… Journey triumphantly complete, unpacking finished and fresh toga donned, it is time to get to work – The Blonde Forester has arrived at National Office!

I started work in the Bristol office last week and am the new girl all over again, visitor pass and all! The office here is modern and open plan, so rather different from the historic Queen’s House, but on the plus side the internet connection is faster and I have a much bigger desk! The office is a little out of town and so rather perfectly has a little wood nearby which I can’t wait to explore. There is a group of volunteers, partly made up of FC staff, who manage it and I hope to get involved with it later in the year once I have settled into my new role. What is also lovely is that the office is encircled by blissful greenery and so I am still able to indulge in a little stroll looking at trees in my lunch break – though I do now have to ignore the traffic sounds from a nearby motorway!

All the normal challenges involved in a house and job move apply to moving on the graduate scheme – oh the stresses of packing, unpacking, losing things along the way, not being able to work out where the hot water switch is in the new flat, not knowing where the stationary cupboard is at work, arriving too late to claim a parking space… But with the practicalities largely attended to I am now able to simply get stuck into work and enjoy the new city and all the changes being here brings. I already adore Bristol and know I will be very happy here for the year, and though the office is new to me (I really feel it should have a cool name like the FC in Scotland Headquarters which are rather aptly named Silvan House but alas it is just known as FC Office in Bristol…) the FC is such a friendly welcoming organisation to work for that you soon feel like one of the team very quickly after starting a new role. Because I am not quite new, having been in the Forestry Commission for a year already and met some colleagues from National Office before it feels more like I have started the second in a series of books, rather than a new one altogether. In leaving the South I did rather feel that horrible tug of the heart I always get when I finish a truly wonderful book for the first time… knowing that even if you were to re-read it you would never be able to conjure up the same emotions. Happily for me the sequel was waiting patiently for me in Bristol and I am now working my way through the always slightly tricky initial chapters as I start to immerse myself in this whole new tale of suspense, new information and adventure. One can only guess at what the third book in the sequence will bring, detailing as it will the further tales of Ruth Wilson The Blonde Forester as she takes up her first post in the FC after the graduate scheme… The first book could have been ‘The Graduate Scheme Welcomes The Blonde Forester’, we are now onto ‘The Blonde Forester in Bristol’, the title of future instalments currently residing in the lap of the Roman god Silvanus who was the god of forests.

This year I will be working on various projects concurrently at National Office, each involving a different set of colleagues and stakeholders. As a result I won’t be a fixed member of any department as I was during my placements in the South District, but since my new boss is the Head of Information Services I have been made to feel especially welcome by that team. I am also very happy to be working on an exciting FC wide project led by Dominic Robinson who started his FC career on the grad scheme too. It is great to be working alongside a fellow grad schemer, for not only is the project in question really significant due to its huge scope across the FC, but Dom is full of tips and advice relating to the commission and the graduate scheme in particular.

Moving may be stressful in parts but it is also so good and energising. I have moved often before and now find myself chalking up Bristol as the fifth city I have made my home. A move always inspires great energy as there are always so many new things to explore, people to meet, local history to learn and activities to pursue. And moving is a crucial aspect to the graduate scheme as well since it is intrinsically framed around a year in district followed by a year at National Office, and then of course after the two years applying for a permanent role which could be anywhere in the country. I think this is a very important aspect for future applicants to the scheme to be aware of, for while personally I am very strongly in favour of regular change and a steady supply of fresh placements and challenges, I am aware that this lifestyle would not be so appealing to everyone. But for me it is time to sally forth and make inroads into the mound of research papers spread across my desk, before venturing out to explore and befriend my new city, the heart and capital of the Forestry Commission England’s Empire.