Oh the glorious South of England, bursting with colour and softened by beauty, fertile not only in woods but also in literature. I recently made a pilgrimage to pay my respects to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after finding out that his final resting place is in the churchyard at Minstead (a village within the New Forest). A thoughtful stranger had left a brown pipe on the stone which made me smile as I quietly remembered the author of good old Sherlock. I loved the Sherlock Holmes tales, and though I never found them nearly so engrossing as my beloved Agatha Christies, their sheer ingenuity delighted me. But perhaps a better known literary connection is the final resting place of the real life inspiration for Alice in Wonderland. Laid to rest in the churchyard right next door to Queen’s House (we are divided by a mere wooden gate which leads us from the garden of Queen’s House into the churchyard) the memorial is a popular site for tourists. A further literary connection that greatly delights me is the use of the Isle of Wight in Day of the Triffids. I adore the book (one of my all-time favourites), and have often wondered what I would do if the Triffids were to truly rise one day…
Naturally the eventual plan in the book to escape to the Isle of Wight has occurred to me as a possible course of action and so I was delighted to visit it twice last autumn. My visits to the island (in this district we refer to it simply as ‘the island’) were splendid: the scenery is just stunning, especially the views out to the sea and I was thrilled to find out about the great poet Tennyson’s links to this location too. He lived on the Isle of Wight for 40 years and was greatly inspired by the landscape, though I am not sure if his wonderful Lady of Shalott was written while on the island. I have previously mentioned the proximity of the family farm in Scotland to the birthplace of Robert Burns and to the setting of his famous poem Tam O’Shanter. Therefore finding so many literary links down here in the South of England has made me feel very much at home, and more connected to the area. I would like to think such proximity to literary greatness will inspire me, and sometimes have notions of writing my latest blog post while sitting picturesquely underneath a magnificent old oak tree as the dappled light filters down through the branches… Unfortunately this idyllic dream has never become reality as it is always raining or muddy when I attempt to commune with the muses in the woods!
Continuing with all my gallivanting I recently spent a day working from Silvan House, the FC office in Edinburgh. I was only there for one working day, but I made the most of it and fitted in several important meetings. I met with two very senior colleagues in FC Scotland, which I found really inspiring. I had wanted to seize the chance to meet with them both when I realised I would be working from Silvan House, and had lots of questions as always (I find my FC colleagues all endlessly patient with all my questions which is just as well as I have an inexhaustible curiosity about all things forestry related, and find one topic inevitably leads on to several others. I believe it’s a good way to learn, and especially to fit new information within a wider context of understanding). But sometimes in life one finds the initial expectation surpassed by the actual experience. Both colleagues have spent the majority of their careers to date within the FC and hearing about the range of posts they had filled, locations they had been based from, and many interesting experiences they had had helped me to think more clearly about my own future as a part of the FC. I love and thrive on change, challenges and the excitement of an ever-changing workload and it was most motivating to look into the future and imagine myself enjoying a career that included such variety. I also took the opportunity to meet with a couple of colleagues who started their FC careers on the graduate scheme. It is always lovely to see fellow grad schemers and share experiences, especially as we have all come from such different academic backgrounds and so bring very different perspectives to the commission.
The University of Edinburgh is where I did my undergraduate degree in Ancient History and the city holds such happy memories for me, not to mention still hosts many friends, so it was lovely to visit. I felt very nostalgic as I strolled around the city after work… and yet I feel most content and excited about my journey through the grad scheme and working in the Forestry Commission. I think it made me realise I can now look back incredibly fondly on my wonderful student days, but that I am totally focused on the bright exciting challenges of the future. There is so much scope within the FC and its grad scheme: I am constantly finding or being offered new opportunities and there is always a new project to work on, visit to join, report to read, meeting to attend, vehicle to drive or wood to explore.
Something that studying both Classics and Silviculture has taught me is to think of the concept of time very differently. Classics required studying the far distant past and acknowledging the vast differences in attitude, culture and tradition. My mother used to read through my essays for spelling mistakes and found herself horrified by the references to some of the less savoury cultural differences, such as the sibling marrying dynasty of Ptolemy, the brutal battles between the Greeks and Romans and of course the positively gruesome things some of the ancient Romans got up to. I did manage to shelter her from the alleged activities of Tiberius, though thanks to my research project on the Domus Aurea she heard rather more than she desired on the life of Emperor Nero… We students of the ancient soon become inured to reading and discussing the things that shocked my mother so much, largely because of our very distance from them. Yet studying ancient history taught me the complicated and crucial lesson of viewing everything as being connected, almost as though each incident is attached on an increasingly long length of string. Thus leading Gibbon to formulate his famous argument that the Roman Empire fell due to the rise in Christianity, and leading me to an appreciation of the lifespan of a tree. The time involved in the growing and felling of a tree can be vast (it depends on the species), and thus the lifespan of a tree can easily cover the careers of successive foresters. The person who undertook the planting of some splendid oak saplings in 1890 can feel quite removed from the people who felled the resultant trees in 2016. Yet the two foresters and all those in-between, are linked by much more than just working on the same tree – working in forestry can be as much of a vocation and a passion as it is a career. Those foresters were also united and linked by their keen passion for a life spent working out in the woods, shaping the future of our forests. Some in forestry are particularly keen on wildlife conservation, others recreation and many are like me and enjoy being involved in all the many different fields on offer. However, everyone is linked by the sense of commitment to such a worthwhile public serving endeavour as our majestic woodlands. Growing up in a farming family (I am descended from farmers on both sides and so count myself a true daughter of the soil) I fully understand the almost primal love of the land and the dedication felt to the care of livestock and crops, and I have found those very same sentiments in forestry. People are proud and dedicated to protecting, expanding and promoting the sustainable management of our public forest estates and that sense of passion is a wonderful thing to be surrounded by.