Forest Craftsperson Apprentices
In October 2016, Bedgebury took on two people for a two-year Forest Craftsperson apprenticeship. The salary of one of these trainees was supported by the Friends of Bedgebury Pinetum in the form of a grant to the Forestry Commission (now Forestry England). Both apprentices were required to undertake a combination of industry-recognised training and practical hands-on training as part of the tree team at Bedgebury. They undertook a variety of roles across the site supporting the maintenance of the Pinetum, nursery activities, recreational facilities, the volunteers as well as the Kent and Weald forest beats. One of the trainees, Emma Bacon, agreed to share her experience in this blog so that Friends' members could see a little more of life inside Bedgebury and gain an insight into the way their subscriptions and donations are used by the Friends.
Emma and Phil have now completed their apprenticeship and have taken on new roles at Bedgebury. Emma succeeded in replacing the site's retiring Nursery Supervisor, and Phil has been appointed as a Forest Craftsperson. We're delighted they've remained at Bedgebury to share their knowledge with the next generation of apprentice. And so the journey begins again with Bedgebury's newest apprentice, Harry!
Find out how Harry's journey began this winter by following the link below.
Harry's 2018-2020 blog:
It was an honour to be asked by curator Dan Luscombe to carry on Emma's blog, and a little surreal but equally a pleasure to be continuing a thread I read as research for my interviews at Bedgebury. I hope I can provide a similar insight into life at the Pinetum and maybe also inspire future craftspeople.
My interest in trees was sparked while studying Countryside Management at Harper Adams where forestry was my favourite module. The degree included a placement year where I was employed as a scientific assistant at the Environmental Research Centre (UFZ) in Leipzig. Working on projects concerned with Ecosystem Services, scenario studies and land use change demonstrated the huge importance of forests to mankind and the planet as a whole.
After finishing university I worked as a landscaper before going to Canada where I stayed for the best part of two years predominantly on the west coast. After eight months in Vancouver building gardens I moved to a small island as a caretaker of a fruit and nut orchard. Initially a summer position, I stayed there for almost a year together with a trip up the coast to Haida Gwaii. The magic of living in the forest among the Douglas firs and western red cedars was as permeating as the rain, and being among those giant conifers made a huge impression. After travelling across to the east coast I found myself back in Essex with little idea of what to do next except that I knew it had to involve trees.
I found out about Bedgebury when I saw the maternity leave post for Catrina's position advertised. I was fortunate enough to get an interview, meet some of the team and see the site. Though I did not get that job I kept an eye out for vacancies at the Pinetum as I worked as a groundsman for Treetop Services in Essex.
When the apprentice positions were advertised earlier in the year it proved to be second time lucky and I am delighted to be here working and learning.
Emma's 2016-2018 blog:
About Emma (2016)
Two and a half years ago I was working in London in a large visual effects film company with long hours and where, more often than not, I was sat in the dark in front of a computer. Although I got to work on some amazing films, such as Gravity, Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy, I craved daylight and the outdoors. Whenever I had the occasional Sunday off I would either bundle my bike into the car and hit the mountain bike single track at Bedgebury or I’d be off tending to my allotment. The lure of the outdoors was growing and the thought of pursuing a career in this field was becoming ever stronger.
My experience as a Production Coordinator excitingly enabled me to get a job in a visual effects house in Adelaide, Australia last year. Whenever I could I took trips to different parts of this beautiful country. I saw the Ottways in Victoria, the rainforest of Fraser Island and most spectacularly the Daintree Forest in the North.
Upon my return to England it was these experiences that helped me decide that now was the time to break from the film industry completely and pursue my new career. I began volunteering at Bedgebury and also with the Conservation Volunteers trying to pick up as many skills as I could. It wasn’t long until I heard about a job in the Visitor Centre and I accepted a place there in February. My time as a Visitor Services Assistant enabled me to gain valuable knowledge of the Pinetum and forest.
I love working at Bedgebury and when the Apprentice Forest Craftsperson vacancies were advertised I jumped at the opportunity to apply to learn and study with the knowledgeable people here.
Back in September 2016 I was excited to hear that I had been offered one of the positions and I have decided to keep this blog as a journal of my experiences during the apprenticeship.
Wow, I cannot believe a month has gone by already in my new role as Apprentice Forest Craftsperson at Bedgebury!
The first week was a whirlwind of ‘re-meeting’ everyone in my new capacity as Apprentice and starting to get to know the role. I was pleased to discover my partner in crime was to be Phil McGovern who I had met at the interviews a couple of months before. He is also really excited to be undertaking the apprenticeship at Bedgebury and to be working for the Forestry Commission.
We will be under the mentorship of our extremely knowledgeable supervisors: Curator, Dan Luscombe and Pinetum Supervisor, Julian Dormady.
The second week consisted of a training course with the other six apprentices who are placed at three different Forestry Commission sites throughout England including Cannock Chase, Thetford and Kielder. It was really interesting to meet them all and learn about the different paths that had brought them to the apprenticeship. The course covered the basics of pollution control, plant handling, electricity and driving at work.
During week three we worked with the Wednesday Wild Crew volunteers, tidying up the ‘Shipwreck’ area of the play trail.
Last week we had the opportunity to go out ‘on the beat’ with one of the craftspeople, Bill, who is responsible for the Sussex area. We began to learn some valuable skills in building and straining fences, all in heavy rains and high winds of course! On the second day we cleared some forest drains of logs and debris ready for further winter weather.
The remainder of the week was spent clearing rhododendron with the volunteers near Churchill Wood, tidying up the dwarf conifer collection at the back of the nursery and the areas near the Visitor Centre. Phil and I were able to put our fencing skills into practice on a small section near the car park.
Each week we have been learning to identify five different conifers by the appearance of their cones, leaves, bark and canopy. So far we have covered some of the basics such as Scot’s pine, Douglas fir, western hemlock, sitka spruce and Chinese fir.