Only a couple of weeks into my stint in the Planning Department and several of my Forest Design Plan (FDP) summaries will soon be online! It is such a nice, tangible project which is lovely and it will be great to be able to look at the website and think that the summaries were all written by me (with the one exception of Rownham Wood which acted as a template for me of how to do them). I find it interesting the way in which different roles provide very different pieces of work, but also very different work forums and settings and the sense of achievement, and satisfaction you feel is directly linked to this. For example, you get a great sense of satisfaction when a big project all comes together thanks to the work of a large team, like with the Christmas tree operation last year – I felt so proud that we had all come together to make it such a success, everyone contributing something different. While with other projects I have provided support, organisation and management – such as overseeing an active forestry site where contractors were carrying out the work. But while I was very much actively involved in a project like that, I wasn’t a part of the complete process, only becoming involved after the contract was set up and the contractors had started work, and I left the South Downs slightly before their work finished. However, this is a totally different process, although my colleagues are very much involved with it – the FDPs themselves are written by various members of the team, my boss checks and approves every summary I write, and another colleague is responsible for actually putting the summaries online and all the web related aspects: the summaries themselves are written by me. A crucial aspect of the graduate scheme is that you spend a great deal of time learning, observing, asking questions, taking notes and generally increasing your understanding of forestry and the FC. But I feel so proud to be truly contributing something so early on in my new role in Planning and it’s very satisfying to feel active in the work taking place alongside my continued learning.
I’m currently focussing my research on the history of forestry in Britain and in parallel the history of the Forestry Commission itself. As part of the graduate scheme you have the opportunity to request a mentor to oversee your progress and act as an additional source of information, and advice. I had the first meeting with my new mentor at the beginning of the month and the process looks likely to provide a wealth of additional information, not to mention a source of forestry related books. I have been reading around the subject of forestry since I joined the commission last summer, but I found it rather challenging to work out the best books for what I wanted and ended up buying some very dry tomes… Thankfully my mentor Jonathan proved to agree that books were the best way to learn a new subject and sent me away from our first meeting with three to study. I am currently deeply immersed in Oliver Rackham’s ‘Trees and Woodland in the British Landscape’ which is terrific: very well written, highly accessible for entry-level people like me and full of diagrams and maps to illustrate the points he makes.
As I find myself immersing further into the world of silviculture knowledge, so too do I find myself feeling more a part of the Forestry Commission. Everyone has been so welcoming from the very beginning, but it does take time before you feel properly a part of an organisation. The FC South District has a wonderful, happy culture of collaboration, strong teamwork and once you don your FC green fleece you start to really enjoy and relish the part you have to play in such a warm, supportive and productive environment. I felt this most keenly a couple of weeks ago when a big BBQ was held in the gardens of Queen’s House to celebrate the FC career of a colleague who was leaving. Everyone gathered together to toast the departing colleague and as I looked around me at the friendly faces, and heard the warm words I felt, not only proud to be working for the FC in general, but happy to belong to such a lovely culture of comradeship.
My working week has become substantially different with the move to this new placement. Before, as Works Supervisor, my days involved dashing between sites in my trusty van, a mixture of time in the porta cabin office and being outdoors. There was a great deal of change as things would suddenly crop up and involve lots of alterations of schedule. I spent a large proportion of time outside in the woods and right on the forest floor in amongst the active forestry work taking place. While now my weeks are much easier to plan out in advance and combine the occasional site visit with lots of meetings of differing kinds. Now the vast majority of my time is spent sitting at my desk doing work on the computer and taking copious notes as points of interest come up. This vast difference between roles within the FC is an important aspect of the organisation, for it is made up of three very overlapping types of role: those predominantly spent outdoors, those predominantly spent indoors and the roles that roughly split their time between the two. What is good is that no role is ever totally confined to an office or forest: every employee of the commission is encouraged to spend a day or so every year shadowing a colleague or participating in a site visit if they would like to do so. While the staff who work outdoors are encouraged to make use of the offices for meetings, computer access or simply to discuss work with colleagues. I like this lack of segregation between indoor and outdoor roles, and was reminded of it recently when Sue, the receptionist in Queen’s House, spent a very enjoyable day out stalking with one of our Wildlife Rangers. The availability of such opportunities impresses me as it shows the lengths the FC goes to promote a culture where forestry information, knowledge and enthusiasm are a vital ingredient for all members of staff. After all this is exactly what the graduate scheme is about – bringing in someone like me with no/little forestry knowledge and exposing them to every aspect of the organisation in order to understand how everything works and comes together before I secure a position of my own at the end of the process. But while that is all very well for those on the grad scheme, it is wonderful to think that a culture of learning and understanding of the business is promoted throughout the FC to every single member of staff. The importance of this culture finds a shining example in Sue: a resident of the New Forest all her life and already interested in forestry and nature, she found her recent day shadowing Ringwood Wildlife Ranger, Colin, really ignited her passion for our beautiful woodlands, and its creatures. It even inspired Sue to write the following poem celebrating her time in the woods: A Day in the Woods with Colin.