ECT went into partnership with the Small Woods charity in 2012 to celebrate the Trust’s Diamond Jubilee, with a £250,000 investment to help train a new generation of coppicers through three-year apprenticeships. Fiona received a bursary through that grant.
Coppicing is a centuries-old, environmentally-friendly way of managing woodland. Trees are cut at ground level causing straight rods to grow, which are harvested to make products such as rustic furniture, garden hurdles and walking sticks.
It has been identified as an endangered rural skill with an ageing workforce and a shortage of new recruits.
Fiona, 28, (pictured courtesy of Amy Behrens-Clark) took on the apprenticeship after graduating in conservation biology and ecology and working for various conservation trusts. Now she is in the final months of her training, based at the National Arboretum, Westonbirt in Gloucestershire.
Three days a week she helps manage 60 acres of woodland, and for the rest she is in her workshop in Bristol making coppice products – from hazel stick chairs to beautifully-carved wooden spoons.
“I started in February 2013 – it was the coldest time of year and it just rained and rained,” she says. “It is something you get used to but it was really tough to start with.”
She says she couldn’t have done the training without ECT’s bursary. “I just love this work – working outside, making things and learning all these skills. Traditionally coppicing was something passed down father to son and it almost died out. So there’s real a need for new people to come into it.
“And it’s also about sustainability – managing our environment sustainably is now more important than ever.”