A New Year in Forestry.

Happy New Year one and all! I had a wonderful Christmas break back home on the farm, though I was not entirely sorry to swap milking cows for a return to forestry – the trees, unlike the cows, at least don’t expect you to work on Christmas day! As we all return to work, battling to get back into the weekly routine, January is now upon us and for me it marks my first new year in forestry. As I valiantly fought off sleep this morning and drove my car through the pitch black (oh how I already long for the light mornings spring will bring!) I started to consider my year ahead in forestry. I have now been working for the Forestry Commission for six whole months and where once the industry felt like a gigantic impenetrable sea of information and activity, I feel that I am starting to understand and appreciate what it is all about. But more importantly I am also beginning to contribute to the valuable work the commission performs, and believe I have come a long way since starting the graduate scheme last July. This all makes for a very positive start to 2016 and I am raring to get stuck into all the new challenges ahead.

As I look ahead to this blank new slate of a year and start plotting out my targets and goals I feel rather like I imagine a Roman Emperor might plotting out his plan of campaign for the empire each year… of course this rather opens up the intriguing and endlessly enjoyable question – “Which Roman Emperor are you?”. It is so hard to pick, plus due to the highly enjoyable but scandal ridden, and often depraved, accounts of my beloved emperors given by my great favourite Suetonius (Tacitus I also love but never found him quite as much fun), I simply cannot bring myself to align with so many of them. I cannot equate myself with that excellent military general Emperor Tiberius, remembering as I do his alleged proclivities and the activities he pursued on Capri… Nor do I wish to be tied to the lovely but cuckolded Claudius even taking Robert Graves’ terrific book into account… while others have much more obvious flaws, fascinating though the emperors are to study. But though it is so very hard to pick ultimately I plump for Severus. He was later than the better known Julio-Claudian emperors, and his ghastly son Caracalla was hardly a great gift to the empire (a mistake Severus should have learnt from Marcus Aurelius), but Severus came from the provinces as opposed to Rome and had to wage a skilful and lengthy campaign to grab power. He held on and consolidated the empire well, produced two heirs (that would be a slight issue until Caracalla sorted it out after assuming power himself) and extended the boundaries of the empire, notably to us Brits by campaigning in the UK and ending up dying near York. So like Severus I started off far from forestry but still connected to it, had to fight to gain my position, and must now also look ahead to the boundaries I must break through as I expand my knowledge and push on to success in my chosen field!

Not a perfect comparison I admit! However, the start of a new year in such a fast paced environment as the grad scheme offers a rare chance to pause and reflect on the path and battlefields ahead. I will continue as Works Supervisor for the South Downs area for some time, before later moving to other departments in the South District as I become involved in every aspect of work at district level as in the summer I will be making the move to Bristol to begin my first placement at national office. There is a great deal to accomplish along the way, ‘But time and tide and buttered eggs wait for no man’ (Masefield, J. Box of Delights) and tempting though it undoubtedly is to peer ahead and wonder at what is to come, the woods are calling and I must attend to them! The South Downs region of the Forestry Commission is made up of lots of different areas of forest, and I started off 2016 with a visit to Creech Wood.

Creech is a lovely area of woodland, largely conifer but with areas of wonderful old broadleaved trees as well. On this bright fresh January day my purpose in visiting Creech was to give it a good inspection after the Christmas break. We hardworking people of the Forestry Commission need a holiday over Christmas like everyone else and so when we return in the New Year it is important to check all our sites to ensure all is as it should be. Beautiful Creech was being enjoyed by dog walkers when I arrived and after exchanging seasons greetings I delved into the woods.

There are plenty of excellent paths intersecting the forest and they are a popular destination for dog walkers, ramblers and for family days out. I stomped round a variety of routes, criss-crossing through the wood as one of my main duties of the morning was to find if the recent bad weather had caused any trees to be blown down as this can cause access issues on our trails. Thankfully there were no issues to report and I had a very jolly walk, alas my mood ever so slightly dampened when it started to rain! Unfortunately working outside so much of the time getting wet is a very common hazard of the job, but I am always ready with my waterproofs and my trusty boots are well used to being muddy.

The woods, even in the rain, were most cheerful in their winter colouring and it was lovely to see people out and about enjoying them. A highly important aspect of the Forestry Commission is providing a recreational service to the public, and we work very hard on sites like Creech to fulfil that. A great deal of time and money is invested every year to ensure our sites remain well maintained, that everything from notice boards to car park meters to play equipment is in good condition, that there are suitable amenities whether that be park benches or dog bins and to quickly tackle any vandalism or damage. Our recreation rangers make regular site visits and the FC as an organisation are committed to providing an excellent experience for the public who visit.

After checking the main paths in Creech Wood I headed for the playground to make sure all was well there too. We have a super and rather challenging playground for teenagers at Creech full of tricky climbing walls, balancing objects, swinging yourself along rings etc. I did once attempt some of it but was not at all successful and the lovely basket swing was much more my sort of thing! There is also a second play area for young children with terrific intersecting wooden tubes to clamber about in as well as a set of smaller swings.

Creech is a splendid example of what the FC have to offer the public and even on a wet day it was gratifying to find so many people out enjoying the wood.

2016 is going to be a significant year for me as there are many challenges ahead. There will be many more first days and new starts as I move between departments and work on a wide variety of different projects, but for now I am happy to luxuriate in the present and enjoy the startling beauty of these crisp new January days out in the woods.

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