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  • Writer's pictureKatie

Macbradan Bones- Working With Trees

Bones is a super cool Landscape Conservationist, who has a passion for woodland conservation and working with trees!

Short bio about yourself and your career so far:

I’m a landscape conservation area officer for Essex Wildlife Trust, which involves working on nature reserves all over the county to plan, deliver and monitor conservation management and improvement. I get involved in everything, from writing plans and project management down to picking up a chainsaw and grafting. I’ve been lucky enough to do this sort of work for the past 20 years or so, so I must enjoy it!

How did you get into practical conservation?

I’ve always had an interest in nature and trees, but growing up in London, career advice wasn’t great for a budding conservationist! I spent 12 years as a furniture restorer before I finally took the plunge and enrolled on a course to study practical habitat management in 1998. I left college and went straight into conservation work and I’ve been lucky enough to work in the industry almost continuously since then on some fantastic projects and sites.

What work do you do with trees, and how does this benefit woodland conservation?

I assess woodlands to ensure they are in a condition to support as much wildlife as possible- the type and ages of the trees, where they are and how the woodland has been managed has a big impact on the wildlife living there. If a wood hasn’t been managed in a long time it might be too shady for smaller plants to grow so it might need thinning, or I might decide that big, old, dying and dead trees will be better for wildlife- it all varies depending on the individual wood. I also work on very old individual ‘veteran’ trees, aiming to keep them going for as long as possible and ensuring a new generation of veterans is following on. Britain has more of these veteran trees than anywhere else in Europe and they support some species which live nowhere else so they are hugely important not to mention awe-inspiring.

What skills/ qualifications would someone need to work with trees?

To begin with they would need to be able to identify our native species of tree- there are only 35 so it’s not too difficult! For more involved work a chainsaw qualification is useful for day-to day management. Much of the rest is just down to experience and practice which can be gained by volunteering or a forestry or arboriculture course.

Please describe in your own words the difference between traditional forestry and woodland conservation?

Forestry is a modern technique which started after the first World War to enable the UK to produce lots of straight timber quickly so non-native fast-growing conifers were planted in dense, straight rows and all cut down at the same time- not many species can live in the dense shade and when the trees are felled they lose their habitats; forestry is akin to agriculture in that the trees are just a crop. Woodland management was traditionally far less intensive- native trees were used and trees were felled for specific uses sporadically- this left lots of habitat untouched and had the benefit of creating little glades in the wood where sunlight-loving wildlife like butterflies and flowers could flourish. Woodland conservation is either more like traditional management; gentler, slower and timber production isn’t the aim, so we leave more deadwood on the ground as habitat, or very ‘hands -off’ where we allow natural processes to govern what happens much more.

Please highlight a conservation issue you are particularly interested in:

A lot of the work we do in woodlands would once have been done by animals- trees felled by wild cattle, the ground rooted up by boar, ponds and wet areas created by beavers and deer (which eat trees) numbers controlled by wolves, bears and lynxes. There’s a big movement worldwide to bring some of these animals back as they do a far better job than we do. I’d love to see beavers, lynxes and boar (maybe not bears and wolves yet!) back in our woodlands and for the first time in my life it actually looks possible!

What can people do you help with this issue?

Help raise awareness of the importance of these missing key species, particularly their role in a natural ecosystem and that they pose no danger to people and their pets or to the wider landscape.

What is your greatest achievement?

I suppose making the leap in changing career at 29 to do something I love and meeting my future wife at work!

What is your favourite tree and why?

Ooh, tricky one. I love hornbeams, they’re one of the first trees I learned as a boy and the quintessential SE England tree. There’s also a fantastic old oak by the Whalebone pub in Fingringhoe that I love, sometimes called the Pirate’s oak or the Smuggler’s oak; it’s supposed to be the biggest in Essex. If I’m honest though, my favourite kind of tree isn’t even a native or found in our woodlands- I do love cedar trees; they’re so stately!

What advice do you have for people wanting to pursue a career in woodland conservation?

Getting as many qualifications, both theoretical and practical, as you can will help enormously, but practical experience and getting to know the woodlands and the people who look after them is priceless. Start by volunteering with a local work party to learn the basics and try to get involved with every aspect of the work. Then when a job comes up you’ll know how to do it!

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask questions- pick the brain of everyone you can- you can’t know too much.

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