Behind the scenes with an Earth Trust apprentice – part 2
By Beth Hall, Land Management Apprentice at Earth Trust
In September 2020 Earth Trust was delighted to welcome a new apprentice to the land management team. Here Beth Hall shares the second instalment of her blog series, including the challenges of getting to grips with advanced tools and machinery.
I stare up at the 12-foot-tall tree swaying as it looms over my five-foot frame, and grasp the saw tightly as I wonder if I am perhaps, both metaphorically and literally, in over my head here.
The last few months have been a blur of activity with lots of information to take on board. New names, places, processes, and one especially large task has been the challenge of getting to grips with new equipment. Before coming to the trust, my experience with tools was limited to my GCSE design classes, and the one time I used a drill to hang – poorly – a shelf in my parent’s house. So to be faced with such a wide array of new tools for a variety of jobs was a tad daunting. Bit by bit, Senior Warden Lucy has been taking me through the basics, from scythes that look like they’ve come from a Poldark production, to a battered Land Rover which has plenty of personality! Each piece of equipment has its own details, techniques and quirks to learn – but the most challenging had to be the chainsaw.
At the end of September I headed over to the Wildlife Trust’s Meadow Farm and Whitecross Green Wood to attend my chainsaw course. Meeting the instructor, Karl, and the other trainees (not to mention Karl’s dog Toto) was lovely. The group got along well, learning from each other’s successes and mistakes, and helping each other improve our skills. On that first morning in the workshop I was torn between excitement and trepidation. I felt dwarfed by the sheer amount to learn as well as by the sheer size of the “small” trees we were felling!
However, as the days went by my confidence grew, and it was only Thursday when I had felled a tree by myself! Being able to see myself grow and improve is an aspect of this apprenticeship I had never properly considered, but going from having never touched a chainsaw to being able to disassemble, maintain and even fell a tree with one was such a rewarding experience. I’m certain that this will be just one of many valuable moments on my journey into wardening with Earth Trust.
As we descend into December, the winter frosts are returning to the Clumps and so too are our volunteers. After a long wait through lockdown 2.0, they have returned with positivity and eagerness in abundance, and we soon set them to work in Little Wittenham Wood creating our ride-side coppice coupes. These are the scallop-shaped areas you may see along our woodland paths where the trees have been cut back to ground level. We do this to stimulate growth, prolong the tree’s lifespan, and create a woodland edge habitat for birds and insects. I was able to put my new chainsaw skills to use by breaking down some larger trees which had fallen, and finishing off the coppice stools after volunteers had cut away the branches with hand tools. None of the material we cut is wasted: much of it is used for hedgelaying, and the rest is arranged into a “dead hedge”, which helps preserve the coupe as well as providing a great habitat for insects and hibernating small animals.
Look out for Beth’s next post to find out what the new year brings!
The Land Management Apprentice post is supported by the Ernest Cook Trust.
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