On Saturday 18th May, Gillon Laidlaw and Ross Fountain joined local families at the Whitelands Project to talk about working with trees. The group were all treated to a brief talk on woodland ecology, descriptions of life in the industry, and lastly a demonstration of aerial tree work and felling. 


Gillon and his gang measuring the height of an ash tree prior to felling.

” We all enjoyed it. I asked Jake what his favourite part was and he said ‘all of it!’ “

We were thrilled to have such a positive response from those who joined us. Parents and children both learned a lot about opportunities in forestry and arboriculture- a career choice that many had never considered before. We are very glad to be getting the word out, especially now, as The Royal Forestry Society estimates that only 11% of foresters are under 25 years of age and women are still woefully under represented in the industry. So some fresh inspiration is exactly what’s needed! 

Ross and a few volunteers showing us how parts of a woodland work together. 

The Whitelands Project aims to reconnect the local community with their landscape, and we believe there’s no better way to do that than to encourage working with it. Arbsystem is a company with a similar ethos. Based near Four Marks, they provide training and assessment for beginners in forestry work. As Gillon explains, the majority of trainees are in their mid to early 20s, but come from all walks of life. However, a recent student was taught aerial rescue and tree climbing at the age of 51 (you’re never too old to learn new skills)!

“One common factor with all trainees looking to work in arboriculture and forestry is that, unless they have a family connection already in the industry, they typically stumbled into it by accident and had no idea about the work beforehand… Having spent a successful, happy, healthy 20 years working with trees, I wholeheartedly recommend a career in this industry. I believe, as do most of my colleagues, that if there was more information provided to young people about this type of work then there would be a greater interest and appreciation for trees, their benefits and the people that manage them.”– Gillon

The idea of introducing schoolchildren to tree work and the career options available to them, began as a discussion between Gillon and Ross in 2017. The initial plan was to offer schools a tree survey (which is a requirement for Health & Safety), and create a bespoke seminar for each school site, according species present. This was slow to take off, but a few years later Gillon heard about the work Whitelands’ principal, Jonathan West, had done with school groups. After some discussions we formulated a plan for the open day- and we are very glad we did! 
My motivation for wanting to provide workshops is to share my passion and respect for trees with others. In particular I want to connect young people with trees and the natural world. In an often increasingly digital, pressurised and busy world I believe that the sooner people are introduced to nature around them the better. This is both for the individual, who is likely to benefit in a number of ways, and for the planet which will benefit from a greater collective understanding and respect from its inhabitants. – Ross


If you are involved with a school or educational group, and would like to contact Gillon and Ross for more details on tree talks and presentations, you can find details on the Arbsystem website.