ONCE a hunting ground for Stuart kings and queens, Falkland Estate sits at the heart of Fife, some 35 miles north of Edinburgh. Covering around 1,900 ha, just under one fourth of which is wooded, the estate is now a working landscape of upland pasture, farm and forest with pleasure walks.

Its diverse landscape requires a lot of maintenance, and among those ensuring it is at its most productive and looks its best are three young men hoping to become the foresters of the future.

Operating out of the Centre for Stewardship on Falkland Estate, the Fife-based project is part of the Our Bright Future programme, one of 31 projects across the UK funded by the National Lottery Community Fund. It aims to help young people gain vital skills and experience so they can take care of the environment.

This programme, set to run until March 2021, provides different types of activity teaching rural skills for different age groups, with level 2 offering Modern Apprenticeships to young people aged 16 to 24.

Forestry Journal: Billy cuts while Declan observes from a safe distance.Billy cuts while Declan observes from a safe distance.

For trees and timber apprentices, the programme lasts 15 months, comprising a mix of college work and hands-on training to secure a range of valuable tickets recognised across the industry.

“When you look for the pathway into forestry, it isn’t as clear as it could be,” said project coordinator Sarah MacDonald. “That’s why this programme was set up, to get people interested in the sector and entering at a skilled level, making them more appealing to employers.

“We’re not looking for any particular skill set, just an interest in the rural sector. We run a two-week academy before they join us, which is an opportunity for them to come and see what it’s like and meet the supervisors.

“Quite a lot of them may not have attained well at school and, as a result, will be concerned about the paperwork side. But we’ve found there’s a really nice balance with the practical and they can deal with it well.”

For those who proceed to the apprenticeship, 15 months of learning and hard graft under the direction of rural skills supervisor Tom Corke await.

“Day to day, we do lot of different jobs,” said Tom. “It’s not just forestry, trees and timber. We help out with estate maintenance, dealing with fencing, path works, road works. We have a sawmill too. The guys do their basic chainsaw training early on and consolidate that for three or four months. In April, we’ll start tree climbing, consolidate that over the course of the summer and then they’ll begin focussing on what they want to get better at. The estate is quite large, so there’s always plenty to do.

“There’s such a broad range of tasks to be done on the estate that we can do almost everything. There is commercial forestry here, so every couple of years a big forwarder and harvester will come in. Our apprentices get to do replanting, they’re around for remounding, that kind of stuff. There’s also the opportunity to pick an area of woodland and try to improve it.

“You get to gain a little experience in a wide variety of area. What we offer are options, so the guys can try different things out and decide what they want to pursue.

“Along the way, we can improve things on the estate, which makes people happy. At the moment we’re thinning a small section of woodland that probably wouldn’t have been touched without the apprentices here, so over the years they have helped to bring a balance to the estate.”

Forestry Journal: Lee makes quick work of these branches.Lee makes quick work of these branches.

So far, the results have been excellent. Of the 10 trees and timber apprentices who have come through the programme since it was established, nine continue to work in forestry, with one at a paper mill.

This year, three trees and timber apprentices have been taken on (one more than in previous years) and, when Forestry Journal visited, they were five months in and growing more enthusiastic by the day.

Before he came to the Falkland Estate, Billy Spence had been doing labouring work in between bouts of unemployment. Then his friend showed him an ad for the apprenticeship.

“I applied and got a bit of a shock when I was accepted into the academy,” he said. “By the last couple of days I was into the swing of it. I’ve said many a time that I don’t think I would want to go back to an indoor job, ever again.

“Now that we’ve been here a while, it is getting tougher. The learning curve is steeper. But it’s still fun.”

Declan Lindsay had three years’ experience labouring on an estate when he heard about the apprenticeship, which appealed to him more than higher education.

“You get an insight into what the industry’s like being here four days a week,” he said. “I’ll leave with a load of tickets that are industry recognised, plus the experience. There’s not a lot of apprenticeships going. I wanted to be working rather than going to college.”

Lee Hutchison left school in fourth year. After four months of unemployment, he was warned by his mother that if he didn’t find a job, he would need to join the Army.

“I applied for a few jobs like McDonald’s, but never got anywhere,” he said. “Then my brother told me about this apprenticeship. I went along to the induction day, spoke to Tom, did a little practical work and was told I could get into the academy.

“For the first week, I wasn’t totally into it, but then I started to get the hang of it and it became a really good laugh. I was really excited to start the chainsaw training.”

Forestry Journal: Billy takes down a tree in an area of previously unmanaged woodland on the Falkland Estate.Billy takes down a tree in an area of previously unmanaged woodland on the Falkland Estate.

All three said that at school they had been told next to nothing about careers in forestry or apprenticeships. It’s fortunate, then, that they found their way into the Our Bright Future programme, which Tom believes will serve them and their future employers well.

“It’s very hard to get work in forestry or arboriculture without qualifications,” he said. “You can go and get them, but they’re expensive. And, a week after doing a typical chainsaw course, are you going to be employable? I wouldn’t give you a job. You need consolidation to become good. You don’t need to be the best in the world, but you need to be competent and safe.

“That’s the great thing about the estate. We can provide constant activities to consolidate skills, including brush-cutting, chipping, chainsaws and, obviously, climbing, which will be a big part of the summer. There’s so much to learn and here, our guys have the time and the opportunity to do it.”

To learn more visit https://www.centreforstewardship.org.uk/our-bright-future-level-2/.

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