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If you go down to the woods today… you might just meet an apprentice!

14 Feb 2022 | College

A key element of apprenticeship training is preparation for the world of work in its various guises. One component that most won’t consider is preparing apprentices to become the mentors of the future and being able to work in a supervisory capacity. Our Level 4 Countryside Ranger apprentices were out in the estate woodland today getting to grips with taking on this kind of role.

With a group of willing volunteers (recruited from our Level 3 Countryside Management students) the apprentices were responsible for leading a session on coppicing. Countryside Rangers are often required to work with volunteers and will be responsible for ensuring they work safely and accurately. The aim of the session for the apprentices was therefore twofold – firstly to safely lead the student ‘volunteers’ in coppicing and secondly to build on skills and knowledge required for this activity.

The apprentices briefed the students on what they were required to do, highlighted safety considerations and then worked alongside them so they were on hand to answer any questions and ensure they were approaching the task in a safe and correct manner. For some of the apprentices, this was their first experience of working with younger volunteers and they enjoyed getting a fresh perspective on supervising a different age group.

The estate woodland has a large number of non-native trees such as Sycamore, Laurel and Rhododendron which do not support wildlife and are choking out native species such as Hazel, Ash and Oak. There is also the presence of Elder and whilst the berries make a great meal for wildlife fallen leaves are actually poisonous to other plant life. Led by the apprentices, the student volunteers were therefore tasked with removing a lot of this growth, which not only creates space to plant more trees such as the highly useful Hazel but also thins the canopy and creates space for light to reach the woodland floor, enabling other plant life to grow. Whilst the snowdrops are beginning to pop through and add a splash of white, with enough of the canopy thinned out we should see more colour from bluebells, celandine and stitchwort making an appearance as we head further into spring.

Whilst we already have Hazel growing in the estate woodland its badly in need of a little TLC as many of the trees have not been coppiced for some considerable time. Hazel is a fantastic tree as it is the ideal habitat for nesting birds and animals and if we’re lucky, the introduction of more of this tree species to the estate could attract Dormice. It’s also incredibly useful as the by-products of thinning these trees have multiple uses, which make a wider contribution to the estate, providing apprentices and students with some insight into to the commercial aspects of woodland management and making it a sustainable enterprise for the college.

The coppiced hazel can be used to make stakes for hedging, which could be sold for £15-20 for a bundle of 10. However, use of these on the estate instead of purchasing them makes a saving which could be used to offset chainsaw fuel or saw blade costs. The spindlier tops of the Hazel can be used as pea sticks, which gardeners will utilise to support pea and bean growth in the garden and allotments, which can also be sold on. Likewise, the thinning of those species we don’t want to preserve can be sold as firewood at £4 per bag.

As well as allowing more sunlight to reach the woodland floor and providing useful products for use on the college farm, or for sale, the coppicing of hazel and other native hardwoods is actually important for the health of the tree. It prolongs the tree’s life, increases healthy biomass, and as a result the amount of carbon it can sequester over it’s lifetime. As well as improving the health of the trees, each new tree planted in the woodland over the next few weeks will sequester on average 10kg of carbon each year as it matures and on reaching maturity could off-set over 20kg each year. So as well as benefiting wildlife, this woodland work is contributing directly to the sustainability of the college and to students understanding of sustainable management practices.

Forming part of a longer-term coppice rotation strategy, tree thinning was a great activity for the apprentices to take on with the students. In addition to practical skills and experience, they were also able to consider the longer-term environmental impact on the woodland for plant life, birds and animals in addition to the more commercial perspective of the activity being self-sustaining. With 100 new Hazel trees on order there will be lots more activity with the students taking place in the woodland over the next few weeks. We’ll keep you up to date on our progress and look forward to sharing more of our woodland exploits.

Geoffrey Guy, Head of Department for Land-Based at Bishop Burton College

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