Welcome to my official Forestry Commission blog ‘The Blonde Forester’. My name is Ruth and in July I embarked on my biggest adventure to date – joining the Forestry Commission’s graduate development programme. I intend to use this blog to detail my journey from Classics graduate to forestry professional as I progress through the two year scheme.
But before I start blogging about the wonderful and vast world offered up to me by the Forestry Commission I think proper introductions are in order.
First a little about me: I am a proud Scot and studied at the Universities of Edinburgh (undergraduate), Manchester (masters) and at the British School at Rome (research position). A career in forestry was never the obvious choice for me given my devotion to Classics (Ancient History was my field, my particular focus being Roman Imperial Historiography), however, my background lies not only on the battle fields of the Roman Empire but also in farming. Having grown up and spent long summers milking cows on the family dairy farm I have long been conscious of a deep love of the countryside and the rural community. Though agriculture itself didn’t appeal to me long-term, I was loath to entirely give up the great outdoors for an office based job, and so when searching for the perfect graduate position I soon honed in on the Forestry Commission and what they could offer. Ideally I was looking for a graduate scheme as the perfect career starting point, and when I found that the FC offered a highly esteemed two year programme I knew that I had found exactly what I wanted. The challenge then lay in winning one of only three coveted places from the 900 other applicants.
The application process was rather interesting, though certainly tough. Composed of five separate rounds – online application, online tests, first interview, assessment centre day and final interview, I was lucky enough to win myself the only place available in England (the other two places were in Scotland).
The graduate scheme in England (the scheme works slightly differently in Scotland) is divided into two year long placements, one in a district (in my case the South district, headquarters Queen’s House in the very heart of the New Forest) and the other at head office in Bristol. Each of these placements is further broken into several chunks of time as the graduate works in different areas; shadowing colleagues, participating in projects and generally being exposed to every aspect of FC work. The range of work is enormous and encompasses everything from actual on the ground planting or harvesting to recreation sites, events and campaigns, planning forest development long into the future, liaising with local stakeholders or action groups, wildlife preservation and control, managing the estate, following government objectives (the Forestry Commission is a non-ministerial government department making its staff civil servants) and the list goes on. This diverse range of work is then projected to a national level during the second year which involves working from the English head office in Bristol participating on projects across the same range of departments, but this time working from a national perspective. The scheme combines all manner of different projects and types of work, and as the only graduate trainee in England I am in the very fortunate position of having access to all kinds of meetings, events and to colleagues at every level to ask for advice and information.
The FC graduate scheme is full of challenges and is constantly throwing new experiences my way. From days spent in the heady beauty of the South Downs (as the leaves fall around you, the glorious orange shades warming the landscape), to day trips to the Isle of Wight (still not managed to spot a red squirrel without it being first pointed out to me), an afternoon helping at a pony drift in the New Forest or even busily spent plotting on mapping software upcoming work in an area of woodland: every day is different to the one before.
I am now a little over four months into my year in the South District. My first three months were very happily spent on the North Walk Beat of the New Forest. In the Forestry Commission geographic areas are first divided into districts and subsequently into beats, each beat having a team of foresters and rangers to look after it. My time on the North Walk Beat (simply the northern half of the New Forest) was my first introduction to real forestry work and I shadowed colleagues, worked on projects, participated in all the ongoing work and generally began my brave new journey into the world of Silviculture.
Last month, having waved goodbye to the New Forest ponies, it was time for my first big move as I went over to the South Downs Beat. Here in the South Downs I am relishing the opportunity to get stuck into a real forestry job of my own as I have taken over as acting Works Supervisor for the area. Now responsible for the safety and smooth running of forestry operations here, I find myself constantly being presented with new and varied challenges as I meet head on the wide remit facing a forestry beat team.
So far have spent a very exhilarating four months getting stuck into life with the Forestry Commission, and I look forward to sharing my journey with you as I continue my move from the world of Classics into that of Silviculture and swap Tacitus for Timber Measurement! I will be blogging about all aspects of my work throughout the rest of the graduate scheme as I navigate the wooded road ahead.