May was rather a busy month full of trips and meetings – no sooner had I returned from a blissful week at home in Scotland than I was off a few days later on a visit to one of our tree nurseries in Delamere, followed swiftly by a visit to Bristol. Add to that the plethora of meetings I have been attending and the days have been flying past! The Delamere trip was super and it was so instructive to actually see the nursery there and hear all about how they grow the various species. I made the trip with three colleagues and we met with representatives from all the other Districts in England to compare notes on how the trees are faring post planting in the various districts. We also participated in discussions over the proposed changes happening with one of the FC’s OGBs. An OGB is an Operational Guidance Booklet, there’s one for every important aspect of work being carried out by the FC. They are produced in-house and give guidelines and advice on health and safety, best practice, and the key methods behind each task. The OGBs span all sorts of topics from Handling Plants, Managing Fuelling or Contract Management. The discussions I was involved with concerned the new updated version of the OGB for Plant Density, being created and indeed co-written by a colleague who completed the graduate scheme a few years ago. It was great to see him again and have a quick chat about how my first year on the scheme is progressing, plus it was really inspiring to see what sort of projects I might find myself involved with in the future.
The nursery visit on my second day brought up lots of subjects I hadn’t yet been involved with; things like seed collection, bare root saplings, even the gravel used along the lines of outdoor seedlings created some really interesting discussions. I had wondered why some rows of the growing saplings had a gravel-like substance on top of them and others didn’t, and I discovered that it was used to regulate and reflect the heat from the sun for the growing species. It is amazing what useful little things you can pick up from the smallest of observations. I must admit that when I saw the rows upon rows of little seedlings growing I did smile to myself, as I thought how much they reassembled rows of Roman soldiers ready for battle, but I refrained from asking if they ever used the Macedonian Phalanx formation instead…
Since my Delamere trip work has been pretty busy as I have expanded my remit to include Scheduled Monuments. A Scheduled Monument (SM) is a site/structure that has been granted a special archaeological status of protection, a type of heritage protection, which originated in the late 19th century. In some cases it applies to buildings of historical significance, but where the Forestry Commission is concerned it largely concerns archaeological features found in our woods. It is granted to features like bowl barrows, traces of Roman roads and earthworks. I am involved in dealing with the SMs for the Eastern half of the South District, which spans four of our Beats, and the most prevalent type of SM is the bowl barrow (a type of burial mound). I am really enjoying being involved in such active archaeological content and feel so at home every time I have to write the word ‘Roman’! With SMs it’s crucial that when any forestry work is taking place in their vicinity that a proper buffer zone is established around them for protection, and indeed every time work is being considered as part of the planning process, or when an operational site assessment (OSA) is written prior to work taking place, an archaeologist visits the site and ensures that all precautions are in place.
Two weeks ago I met with my mentor Jonathan to explore an area of woodland near Winchester called West Wood, to talk about the methodology of, and the arguments surrounding, woodland conservation. He had previously lent me George Peterken’s seminal book ‘Woodland Conservation and Management’ and this formed the basis for our discussion. I found the book incredibly helpful in furthering my understanding of forestry management and the history of forestry practices as they exist today, but I must admit to not finding it nearly such a smooth or easy read as Oliver Rackham’s books. I expect this is due to my lack of practical forestry experience for Peterken deals very much with forestry as a real life physical task, albeit with complex historical depths behind it. Whereas, I found Rackham’s text dealt more with the theoretical, academic arguments and so found them slightly further removed from the great intricacies and calculations which Peterken does not spare you. It was a beautiful sunny day and I revelled in the experience of being back out in the woods again. We walked around West Wood and having the opportunity to discuss and expand on Peterken’s theories of natural conservation while actually out in the wood really helped my understanding. West Wood was looking its best in the lovely sunny weather and offered many areas for discussion as it is formed of open spaces (ideal for attracting butterflies), newly planted oak, hornbeam and lime trees as well as older established trees. I was also able to observe all the many glorious changes the new season has brought to our forests – truly Shakespeare’s ‘Darling Buds of May’.
And such is the variation involved in work with the FC, last week I found myself in Bristol visiting Head Office for a few days. I will be moving there in only a month (how quickly the year has gone), so I visited the great city to meet new colleagues and find a flat ahead of the big move West. It is going to be a huge change from working in the South Forest District, where I have been able to pop out into the woods at regular intervals. I’ll soon be getting involved with national level projects and being much more office based. I will be sad to leave behind Queen’s House, set in the heart of New Forest, but I’m also excited to experience life and work in Bristol. I feel I have gained a sound understanding of how the teams and their work fit together at a district level, but it’s time for me to get exposure to the decisions and work taking place at national level, as I continue my journey through the grad scheme.