The last month of my placement was a whirlwind, just like myself, apparently. Realizing that I’ve been through more than half of the three month period and getting closer to starting the semester, I felt the need to take in as much as I could.
fig. 1. Last day of my placement we went to get lunch in Lugwardine!
The placement itself kept getting more interesting! I’ve been given an 80 ha woodland in Worcestershire county, about an hour drive away from Hereford. My task was to explore it, get to know it, write a management plan grant application and management plan. I didn’t get too far with the paperwork itself, but it was a pretty cool experience going to an unexplored wood and making your own assessment on what needs to be done. The issue with private woodlands is that if you don’t have a key to the gate, there are high chances of you getting locked in! I was in there until about 530-6pm when I decided to leave, and found the gate closed (gamekeeper has left already). From a distance it was terrifying – me, with a huge car, low on food and almost no cellphone batter, locked in a woodland for a night with no available phone numbers, and coincidentally I left my lock-pick kit at home. Fortunately, when I actually got right to the gate and looked closer, the lock was actually broken. As I found out from the gamekeeper whom I’ve met a couple days later, due to the different groups going in (telephone services, railway services, gamekeepers), the padlock was broken on the main entrance to the gate, so nobody would get locked in/out. Phew!
My experiences with the local ultra-free range bird industry has been mixed. On one hand, I find them adorable, because they seem quite tame and unintelligent, on the other hand, walking through a woodland where there are thousands of them, it can get quite smelly. My supervisor and I were at one estate one morning meeting the gamekeeper and I took advantage of my absolute lack of knowledge for the shooting industry, and asked loads of questions – result being about a 2 hour talk on how pheasants are reared, from hen to egg to chick, with a cool demonstration of the equipment used to incubate the eggs and a show of the pens where they’re kept until old enough. I have seen several pheasant pens in my adventures in the Herefordshire estate woodlands but I had no clue that it was such a big deal! The incubators cost a crazy amount of money, and the whole process requires a huge amount of work! This was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve come across during my placement.
Fig2. Pheasant rearing talk by the gamekeeper at one of PRS’s estates. It was very interesting to see where they come from and how much effort is involved in producing thousands of birds for sport.
As I’ve mentioned in my previous blog, Grey Squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) are very damaging to the local timber industry and are hated by every forester that I’ve met, for the tremendous damage caused on the hardwood trees. Interesting thing is, though, that this behaviour is predominantly in the UK, as I haven’t heard much about this in my studies in Canada. The shocking damage I’ve seen on the cricket bat willows in one of my first weeks was a push to pursue some more knowledge about the situation as part of my Masters capstone project. I can’t say anything about it now, but I’ve been very excited to dig deep into the overall economic damages the squirrels will have on this upcoming timber rotation, especially on Oak, Chestnut and beech trees. Because the squirrels started doing real damage in the 50s/60s, the trees that were planted just before then are about halfway or a third through their growing cycle, meaning that the timber industry will only feel the actual economic loss once the time comes to sell it. Stay tuned on my twitter and LinkedIn for this project.
fig3. Squirrel trap – a small demo of what kind of measures gamekeepers take in order to protect the woodlands from Grey squirrel damage – as poisoning has been outlawed several years ago, managing for invasive squirrels has become more labour intensive and difficult.
One of my tasks this summer was to perform a beatup survey and tube spraying. Basically, a year or 2 after a plantation is put in, there is a chance of some of the seedlings dying. In order to find and replace those, the tubes with dead trees must be marked with spray paint. Then a percentage of the trees that have died is used to figure out the number of new trees to be ordered for next planting. It’s not a difficult thing to do, except I haven’t yet figured out a system which would require not carrying a pen/paper but also one where I wouldn’t lose track of how many tubes I’ve marked. This showed me that I’m really just terrible at being organized. On the other hand, who can be surprised if I’m supposed to walk through rows with hundreds of trees at a time?
fig4. Working in Herefordshire was a privilege due to the scenic workplace I spent a lot of my time in. Although beatup surveys on a steep slope were time intensive and hard work, looking over the River Wye was amazing and I definitely took many photos for my Instagram profile.
Sometimes, or that one time, I came across a segment in a plantation where literally 80/90% of the trees were dead. It was the weirdest thing ever. The area didn’t seem too terrible in terms of growing conditions, and it was a certain species that seemed to be uprooted (By that I mean, the bare roots were not even in the ground. It was just so easy to pull them out of the tube! Bonkers). I still don’t really know what exactly was the reason for that, but it could have been anything beyond my level of knowledge, or it just could have been someone who was about to give up their job of being a planter and just didn’t care. This brings me to talking about people.
As a person with an ecology background, I have all these dreams and aspirations and hopes that the world can be a better place, but this three month experience in a real workplace showed me that, in fact, most of what people do is highly dependent on money. From the woodland owner to the maintenance company to the logging company to the government, nobody would be doing anything if there was no money in it. Most decisions are made based on the amount of capital available, and thus, ecological integrity and wildlife usually comes way behind timber production and recreational opportunities. Obviously, government is putting some restrictions on what one can and cannot do, which makes it more complicated. For example, grey squirrels used to be controlled with poison, but recently the EU has banned the use to Warfarin and forest managers and gamekeepers have to resort to other, more traditional, labour intensive and costly methods. Protecting your timber supply is important, and if several squirrels per hectare are capable of destroying half the crop, there is obviously a problem. However, when you walk into the city, you see squirrels everywhere, and you also come across people feeding them. My weekly activity of feeding squirrels with leftover pizza (just kidding – I don’t eat pizza that often) in Toronto would quickly become the most evil of things, if I were to do it in the UK.
In my first blog, I mentioned my beautiful pink Muck Boot wellies, which I got during my first week of working with Pryor and Rickett. I was so excited to bring them back to Canada and be a forest diva back at home, although I’ve been told by a welly salesman that I should donate them to charity and get some boring boots from another company. As it turns out, during one of my beatup survey days, my feet were soaking wet, I had to pour a gallon of water out of each boot and was very disappointed with my purchase. Upon inspecting the boots I found a tear on both of them right above the heel, suggesting either that there was something wrong with the manufacturing or the design OR that my feet are hostile environment for muck boots. Either way, I went back to the garden centre where I bought them the day before I was to fly out, and alas, I got my £99.80 back! So it worked out perfectly, I basically borrowed an awesome pair of boots and only had to endure 2 days of soaked feet. I tweeted at Muckboot company, and got no response. I understand now that instead of making impulsive purchasing decisions, I should consult a relevant professional. And maybe next time I won’t get pink ones, because all my colleagues will laugh at me. I’ll probably get bright yellow ones!
Like I said before, my last couple of weekends were definitely interesting, but not wild at all. I only left Herefordshire on bank holiday weekend to visit Hertfordshire (one letter difference!), as one of my good friends from highschool lives there. About a 40 minute drive from London, I carefully observed the changing landscape going from West to East. I got to see my friend Clare and her horse Felix, who seemed to be a lovely young horse, but my heart went to another, cheeky pony that was in the stall next to him. I was also disappointed that snapchat filters didn’t recognize pony faces, because this particular pony was very good at taking selfies with me.
I’ve been summoned to go to a village rave party about 10 miles south of Hereford. As the idea of glitter, local DJ music and local cider in a rugby field seemed very appealing, I spent an evening indulging on just that. I’ve also finally visited the Mappa Mundi in the Hereford Cathedral! As I haven’t been clubbing in Hereford (I do regret not going, kind of!) I enjoyed it to the max. But I kept finding glitter on me for days after.
I find that most Canadians aren’t familiar with roundabouts, and I realize I haven’t seen any in Toronto at all. However, as I’ve lived in several different countries, I’ve come across them and find them really an efficient way to organize traffic. It saves time, money for traffic lights and they’re just great! I wish I went to the Magic roundabout though. For a while I was tempted to drive across the country just to experience it. Ah well, I’ll try next time!
My final reflections:
This was possibly the most bangin’ summer I’ve ever had. Since April I’ve been fully immersed in forestry, either on a field course (Ghana, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary) or with work (Herefordshire). The CIF has provided me with an excellent opportunity to learn as much about forestry as I possibly could, with an insight on how things are done internationally. And I am really grateful for that.
My placement with Pryor and Rickett allowed me to step into a real world scenario for a short time and get a more objective, non-academic view on what actually happens from seed to sawlog. The many relationships formed between different groups of people as well as the challenges and rewards they come with. Yet foresters are just mediators between owner and planter and harvester, and I find it to be a beautiful profession. To be completely honest, as I’m sitting on the plane right now, I’d give just about anything to be able to be there still for another 3 months.
Looking back and thinking about what I would say to anybody interested in applying for the Prince of Wales Forest Leadership Award, a lot comes to mind. First off, to a young, early in their university or college career student, I would emphasize the importance of getting involved in their local community. Whether it’s urban forestry, Silviculture, environmental initiatives, or whatever else, join the group and try help them as much as you can. Although education is important and should be number one priority, it will only matter to a certain extent. That’s where engaging with the local community comes into play – apart from making lifelong friends with similar passions, you also acquire skills that may not necessarily be available during your education – and more often than not, they will form a crucial part of your development.
I would like to give a public shout-out to the staff at Pryor and Rickett, especially my work mum Mo, my work uncle Chris, and Andy for taking such good care of me. I would also love to extend my gratitude to HRH Prince of Wales and the Canadian Institute of Forestry as well as the Institute of Chartered Foresters for allowing me to engage in this exciting program.