Forest Craftsperson Apprentices

In October 2016, Bedgebury took on two people for two-year Forest Craftsperson apprenticeships. 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 experience as part of the tree team at Bedgebury. They undertook a variety of roles across the site including maintenance of the Pinetum and recreational areas, nursery activities and the provision of volunteer support and support for the Kent and Weald forest beats. One of the trainees, Emma, agreed to share her experience in a blog so that Friends' members could see a little of life inside Bedgebury and gain an insight into the way their subscriptions and donations were being used by the Friends.

Emma and Phil completed their apprenticeships in 2018 and immediately took on new roles at Bedgebury. Emma succeeded in replacing the site's retiring Nursery Supervisor, and Phil was appointed as a Forest Craftsperson. Although Phil moved on to share his skills and knowledge with students at Plumpton College at the end of 2019, Emma remains to share her knowledge with the next generation of apprentices.

And so the journey continues! In October 2018, Bedgebury's next apprentice, Harry, joined the team. Harry is due to graduate in 2020 and two more apprentices will arrive later in the year.

Find out how Harry is progressing through his apprenticeship journey by following the links below.

Apprenticeships aren't the only way to gain skills and knowledge at Bedgebury. From October to December 2019, Brian, a passionate tree enthusiast exploring his love of conifers before continuing his studies at Oxford University in autumn 2020, joined the tree team as a volunteer. With them he undertook various tasks in the Pinetum, including helping to plant trees, and cataloguing, examining and reporting on the progress of specimen trees. The Friends is proud to support the Pinetum’s scientific projects, and as part of that commitment, and assisted by a generous grant from the Stanley Smith Horticultural Trust, is now funding Brian's employment for a period in 2020 to work on a tree verification and recording project in the Pinetum. Brian's experiences in the Pinetum will be shared with readers in occasional blogs, and the Friends' 2020 magazine, now available online and as a hard copy, explains Bedgebury's sentinel role in international tree health.

Read more about Brian's experiences of working in the Pinetum by following the links below.    

Brian's blog:

Verifying Abies at Bedgebury Pinetum: Spring 2020

Volunteer experience: Autumn / winter 2019

Harry's 2018-2020 blog:

January 2020 

December 2019

October / November 2019

September 2019

August 2019

July 2019

June 2019 

January / February 2019 

Winter 2018

About Harry 

Harry Forest Apprentice 2018It 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:

October 2018 

August/September 2018 

June/July 2018

May 2018

March / April 2018 

February 2018 

January 2018

November / December 2017 

October 2017 

September 2017

July / August 2017

June 2017

April / May 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

December 2016

 About Emma (2016)

Emma Bacon Blog low resTwo 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.

Month 1

raking mulch low resWow, 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.

team photo low resThe 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.

fence building low resThe 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.