One outcome of RDPE investment in forestry is that many thousands of hectares of woodland are now under better management, so creating more opportunities for owners to earn greater amounts of money from efficient woodland harvesting.
But it takes special training and skills to know how, and when, to fell or prune a tree, coppice, turn branches into woodchip, re-plant and so on. And that raises a human resources question - how to ensure there are enough people with the right know-how to keep wood-related industry vibrant, and enough up-and-coming foresters to step in for older workers as they retire?
A new-style apprenticeship scheme piloted in the South West and the Midlands is helping to provide the answer. Leading from the pilot scheme, additional funding has been made available for more employers to offer apprenticeships. Dozens of young would-be foresters in different parts of England are now taking advantage of on-the-job training supervised by expert mentors and classroom work, leading to a Level Two Diploma in forestry as well as a useful range of professional competency certificates.
The pilot scheme resulted from a partnership led by the Forestry Commission and The Silvanus Trust with additional financial and practical support from Bicton College, the Making It Local and Neroche funding schemes and private forestry sector employers. As proof of the next generation’s interest in forestry, more than 150 young people applied for the places and all four of the scheme’s first graduates are still working in the sector.
South West pilot project co-ordinator Jane Hart of the Silvanus Trust, says the students weren’t alone in learning from the two year scheme. “Valuable lessons were gained that are helping to inform and shape the other schemes running nationally and local training providers are now more aware of the need to offer forestry-specific training, in addition to arboriculture and the skill sets required”.
One of the South West apprentices so impressed project partner Clinton Devon Estates that he has been kept on to help with the care of its 1,900 hectares of woodland in East and North Devon. John Wilding, the estate’s head of forestry and environmental economy, says: “We have had a very positive experience of the apprenticeship scheme and view it as an exemplar of partnership working. It is great to see the apprentices grow in skills and confidence and contribute to addressing the skills gap we have within the forestry sector.”