Spring is not far away and when you walk through the woods you can practically hear the fresh green shoots shouting with delight as they bask in the bright light of the sun. The new season’s growth can most easily be seen on the forest floor as bluebells shoot through waiting to bloom and the orange leaves melt away into the mud. But alas the woods of the South Downs will burst into beautiful new growth and greenery without me as I am posting this at the start of my very first week back in Queen’s House in the heart of the New Forest. Indeed this marks the start of a whole new epoch in my graduate journey – I have moved up to the attic heights belonging to the Planning department. The graduate scheme involves a lot of first days and new starts and gosh here we go again! But all of the change (of location, colleagues, department, indoor/outdoor environment and of course type of work) encourages an environment of constant learning, especially of the commission itself. With every move the way in which all the many teams and departments spread across the whole district fit together and work towards the commission’s overarching aims makes more sense. Plus my latest move means I get to leave behind the cold porta cabin and the hour each way commute to work!
I left the team in the South Downs behind after a very productive and enjoyable four and a half months. I was very sad to leave having had a wonderful time stomping about in the woods and playing a real part in the work taking place in the beat, but one must march on and I am excited about my move to Planning. Change is a wonderful thing and it will be great to add to my knowledge by tackling something totally different. I feel I gained a lot from my time on the South Downs Beat and the work was certainly varied – from Christmas trees to harvesting, contract management to recreation sites. I experienced so many different things from the intensive challenges of contract management all the way through to the little incidents that crop up when working outdoors, such as getting my van stuck in the mud – I was very lucky that two of my colleagues were nearby at the time and they quickly pushed it back out! I even got the chance to see filming taking place in Bourne Wood when a Hollywood film crew descended for a couple of weeks in December. Bourne Wood is a popular location for films and has featured in all sorts of movies including the opening forest scenes of Gladiator, as mentioned in the recent short documentary featuring our Filming Ranger Pam below. I am not allowed to mention yet which film I saw shooting there as it is still in production, but it was such good fun being on a film set for the day! People walking about in costume, lots of fake smoke, a terrifically lavish catering truck, a huge number of people talking into walkie-talkies and looking at monitors and a sighting of a very famous actor! I had been warned that film sets involve a great deal of waiting about before anything at all happens, but it being my very first time I loved the whole experience, even sitting about in the cold waiting to watch the cameras roll. Of course I wasn’t there to have fun, rather I was able to observe the discussion process and close working relationship between the FC and the filming company as we ensured the wood would be returned to its natural state upon completion of the filming. This is an absolutely crucial element to the permission to film in our wood being granted. It just goes to show you never know what excitement the Forestry Commission will offer me next, I may have entered a career in forestry but so many other interesting aspects are involved!
As a farewell I treated the beat team to Tunnocks Teacakes and shortbread, but restrained myself from forcing Irn Bru on them as well. During my time on the beat I had come to feel like a member of the team, albeit an inexperienced one, and everyone had been so friendly, helpful and above all patient as I got to grips with my role as Works Supervisor. For me personally it had also been my first real experience of working within a team, for although I had a splendid time as a nominal member of the North Walk beat at the beginning of time I had been brand new and spent most of my time researching and observing. Whereas I have now had a proper experience of working within and contributing to a beat team. Alas now the beautiful South Downs, which I slaved away for during the bitterly cold and wet winter days is going to reward others with the flowers and the warmth of Spring… but I have already promised myself a trip over there to see the bluebells as soon as they bloom.
And so to Planning – I started up in the attic at Queen’s House on Leap Day and was welcomed by my new boss and the rest of the planning team. I was soon hard at work on a wide-scale project to make our Forest Design Plans (FDPs) more accessible to the public. This project is England wide and I have come along at just the right stage to work on summarising all the FDPs for South District and get them online. The FDPs are written for every area of woodland owned or managed by the Forestry Commission and plan out the objectives and aims for that area far into the future, often well over a hundred years ahead. The plans talk in fairly general terms about goals like working towards the restoration of ancient woodland over a long time period. As a result when harvesting work is being planned at a beat level these FDPs are consulted by beat teams and they follow the guidance given, but within that have the free range to decide the finer points. For example the FDP might specify that by 100 years into the future an area should be predominantly broadleaf rather than conifer, so when the beat team is arranging for thinning to take place in the short term they would favour the broadleaf, thus leaving it and allowing it the chance to naturally regenerate the area with more broadleaf, and they would thin the conifer. The FDPs are reviewed every five years in brief and then extensively reviewed every ten years. This intensive review process is to take into account changing FC policy (which could affect all sorts of decisions such as which species to favour), tree diseases affecting the wood, the population numbers of animals living in the wood and so on.
It is of the upmost importance to the Forestry Commission to keep the public well informed and up-to-date about the work we carry out, and so our FDPs can all be accessed on our website. However, these documents are long and can be very difficult to interpret without knowledge of forestry practise, and so it was decided that every FDP should be accompanied online by a succinct summary, to make them more accessible and easy to understand. And it is these very summaries that I will be writing. It is rather exciting to be working on something so tangible, for although I have been hard at work on all sorts of documents over my time on the grad scheme, they have been on a much smaller scale and generally only of use within a small team. Whereas these summaries will hopefully be of great use to members of the public seeking information, and will be publically accessible on our website.
Ensconced under the cosy eaves of dear old Queen’s House I am struck more by the vastly altered nature of my role than by the delights of sitting indoors next to a blissfully warm radiator (not that I am yet taking for granted the joy of working in a real building with radiators and indoor plumbing, wearing skirts and dresses rather than waterproof trousers and woolly hats to work!). My new role in Planning involves very fine intricacies of mapping, planning, organisation and looking far into the future as I do so. It does take into account, and is mindful of, the work that will take place on the forest floor but it is not directly involved in it. This distance from the work being carried out right now or in the immediate future is something I need to acclimatise to. From dashing out and about between active or soon to be active forest sites, I am quite literally further away from the woods. Instead of being involved in the busy rush of daily life on a beat team I must now learn to view the work taking place from a different perspective, and to see it as part of a much bigger, district wide plan. When I move to head office in Bristol come July this perspective will need to shift once more, and then it will be viewing everything from a national perspective instead. These shifts in perspective are vitally important to my time on the graduate scheme for no matter what my future position within the organisation ends up being it is crucial to my success that I can appreciate all three of these perspectives: national level, district level and operational level and find a way of successfully melding them together.