The amazing Cheryl Duerden from In A Land of Giants talks us through her journey into conservation, from documenting the rainforests and reefs of South East Asia to coppicing in Southern England. We hear about the importance of protecting ancient trees and encouraging diversity in all its forms!
Name: Cheryl Duerden
Organisation: In A Land Of Giants
How would you describe your job?
I’m a forester, arborist, trees & woodlands surveyor and an ancient & veteran tree surveyor, mostly involved in conservation. My work is really varied; using chainsaws, various tools and machinery for woodland management and sustainable forestry, carrying out traditional woodland practices like coppicing, hedgelaying and charcoal making, woodland surveying, writing up reports and plans, surveying ancient and veteran trees for organisations such as the National Trust and Woodland Trust, plus a lot of traipsing across steep ground, fighting through bramble and bracken!
How did you get in to this industry?
I was a media and mass communication graduate and started my career in my early twenties, travelling as a writer and photojournalist. My work took me to a lot of different places from rivers in Borneo to the plateaus in the Himalayas. I was writing for an environmental magazine and by chance, took on an assignment to follow a group of biologists and students through rainforests, mangroves and coral reefs in Malaysia, to document the educational work and conservation that they were doing. I was hooked onto conservation from then on, started working for the very company that I wrote about, whilst still utilising my photography and writing skills. Trekking with specialist biologists and students through the rainforests of Southeast Asia, wading through mangroves and snorkeling over coral reefs inspired me to transition my career into the dive industry, where I qualified as a PADI IDC staff instructor (scuba diving), learning and sharing my knowledge with others about marine conservation. Moving to the UK many years later, I joined the National Trust in West Coast Exmoor and based in the beautiful Heddon Valley, I continued my conservation journey, sharing my passion for Nature with others through ranger work, wildlife surveys and guided walks. In late 2018 I started specialising in trees and volunteering in tree surveys, private woodland management work and in the process gaining my chainsaw and brush-cutter qualifications.
Why is your work important?
I love that trees are the oldest living organisms on this planet and I share an intrinsic connection with them. In recent years, it’s really great to see that trees are very much in the spotlight with the whole tree planting, carbon sequestration and climate change movement, and I’m really proud to be able to champion these incredible beings. My focus in conservation forestry and arboriculture has also channeled my passion for ancient and veteran trees, which was the area I first started in when I made my decision to specialise. Having met and spoken to several people in the industry, I feel the importance to help shed more light on and conserve the oldest trees in our country, of which are incredibly significant and ecologically valuable in our landscape, bringing such great biodiversity to our ecosystems. In addition, as a petite Southeast Asian Chinese female entering a mostly (white) male-dominated UK forestry and arboriculture industry, makes it extra special for me to continue my journey and share my experiences with other women and ethnic backgrounds!
What is the most important thing you have learned during your career?
Never be afraid to make mistakes, because it will make you a better learner. I often remember things best when I’ve made a mistake (because I tell myself that I won’t get it wrong again!). Also don’t be afraid to ask questions if you are unsure; we all have to start somewhere and you’ll be surprised – with the right attitude – how many people are willing to help and share their experiences with you, in the process enriching your knowledge and building good connections with others in the industry.
Would you recommend this job? What advice do you have for others interested in this career?
Absolutely! For me personally, working and being with trees is one of the most amazing things ever. I get so much satisfaction knowing that I’m doing my part for the planet, from planting a tree to even just chatting to others about trees. When I first decided to specialise, I never realised that there were so many different aspects of tree work. I’m still in the process of exploring my options in the industry, so I would also encourage anyone else to do the same; go ahead and try out as much as you can – be it tree climbing, research, surveys, etc. – and then decide which path is suitable for you. Most importantly, be passionate about what you choose to do and keep persisting!
Follow me on Instagram (@inalandofgiants.blog) and read my blog about my journey with trees at www.inalandofgiants.blog
I am also an ambassador for Arbortec Forestwear: https://arbortec.com/pages/cheryl-duerden