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My Forestry Roots Experience - So Far!

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Katie Stevens took on the role of Forestry Assistant at Nicholsons Plants, Forestry and Landscape in 2018 when she became one of our first successful Forestry Roots candidates. 

We are currently seeking applicants from college leavers for two one-year paid Forestry Roots posts – one as Assistant Wood Reeve, Tregothnan Estate (Kent) and the other Woodland Assistant, Huntley Estate (Gloucestershire). Deadlines for applications for these posts are 5 July. Details are available here 

Here Katie reviews her first six months:  

The Forestry Roots project was just the graduate opportunity that I was looking for!

My role encompasses all aspects of forestry, from establishment to harvesting. What I love about Forestry is that, as the seasons change, so do the tasks.

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Assessing squirrel damage

September began with a week of banksman duties within one of our managed estates; a mulcher was at work, widening public footpaths and rides. Then throughout September and into October, I completed a multitude of different surveys, including beat up counts of new planting, squirrel damage assessments and ride management. I was also actively involved in estate visits, updating woodland management plans. Each survey provided me with plenty of office work to do; squirrel, ride and estate surveys required mapping, photo records and, if required, updating of the relevant management plan documents.

November saw further estate visits, with a focus on identifying areas of ash dieback that were eligible for a Tree Health Restoration Grant; a government funded scheme to help woodland owners with the felling and restocking of diseased woodlands. As with all forestry schemes, time is required both on site and within the office; photographs of the woodland and assessments of species mix within the woodland are made on site, and the specific woodland details and various documents are completed in office. I enjoy both the site and office work, as it gives me an overall picture of what a forest manager realistically does.

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Identifying areas of ash dieback

Soon after, the planting season madness began and has continued for several long months! In that time, I’ve managed my own hedging job from start to finish; from meeting the potential client, quoting the job, to organising the trees and the team to plant them. Since then, my team have given me responsibility of several other jobs, such as tree clearance for the local council, hedging quotes and estate visits, as well as involving me in their own planting and management schemes. It feels like December and January just flew by in the blink of an eye! With planting in full swing and the heeling in bed full of trees, this gave me a good opportunity to improve my winter tree identification skills; I can safely say that after sorting many a bag of mixed species, I feel a lot more confident identifying bare root!

February and March saw the continuation of the planting season, marking out of planting sites using our GPS Trimble device, as well as the administration of the various forestry schemes, such as Countryside Stewardship and Forestry Commission grants and felling licences. I have been very involved with such schemes from the beginning of my Forestry Roots placement. This has been a huge learning curve for me, as I did not have any experience in this. Although I’m still learning, I feel more confident with each stage of such schemes, from initial application to the final claim.

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Using Trimble GPS  device to mark out planting sites 

As part of the Forestry Roots scheme, each forester is entitled to a training allowance. Having observed my fellow Forest Managers using trailers to take planting materials to the various sites, I was encouraged to utilise this allowance and take my trailer test. With a test booked in April, I have been driving with as many trailers as possible! Also, I was invited by the RFS to attend a BASC Shotgun Safe Shot assessment day; it is an award scheme that assesses people on the confident and safe use of shotguns in a field-based situation. It was an informative and useful assessment day, from which, I am now a certified BASC Safe Shot user, with the ability to conduct squirrel control within either of the RFS owned woodlands, if desired. Another training day, organised by Nicholsons, was centred on bat awareness within woodlands. The morning consisted of presentations on bat ecology, identification and the law surrounding the species, which left the afternoon to wander around a neighbouring woodland, assessing trees for their bat habitat potential. All the training courses that I’ve been lucky enough to have partaken in have been thoroughly enjoyable and may not have been possible without the Forestry Roots scheme; thank you RFS!

I would encourage anyone who is looking to get into the forestry industry to apply for the Forestry Roots Scheme. It is brilliant scheme, with the simple purpose of encouraging college and university leavers into employment, with the aim to improve and encourage new forestry skills and knowledge. I myself began university with no previous forestry experience, having spent most of my school years with the ambition of becoming a teacher! However, the knowledge and experience I gained, both through university at the National School of Forestry in Cumbria and my placement with the Forestry Directorate in the Department of Environment, Food and Agriculture on the Isle of Man, gave me the confidence to apply and secure my Forestry Roots Placement. My first six months of Forestry Roots journey have been a blast; let’s see what the next six bring!