21st Century Woodlander

Defining a specific job title in land management is a common thread on professional forums. How much does the confusion surrounding our job titles add to the disenfranchisement of land management practitioners? Or are we, as I think we risk, getting far too pompous over the issue and it would suit us best to get back to Hardyesque titles that avoid wasting a client’s time and money in explaining exactly what we are and what we do.

I am a silviculturalist, my main speciality is in ensuring soils are fit for tree planting and, unfortunately much more common now, in helping identify problems with existing trees planted in the wrong place. The rather grandiose title bestowed on me by French colleagues and peers is ‘arboricultural edaphologist’ which is nice, but wrong in so far as I am not a scientist, an ologist, but a practitioner.

I straddle the border of forestry and arboriculture with landscaping. I work predominantly with landscaping teams and I am always impressed by the sheer range of knowledge that landscapers need to know and use on a daily basis. This knowledge base is forever expanding and good landscaping practitioners can truly state that they are at the forefront of sustainable development in its purest sense. But there are many not so good landscapers, in fact they are not landscapers at all but have stolen this title to enter a badly regulated industry. But ‘Landscaper’ should be a safe all encompassing term. The French differentiate between an ‘Open Landscaper’ and a ‘Landscape Engineer,’ this is maybe something worth considering in the UK to protect this vitally important industry.

In the UK a forester is a well defined title that cannot be stolen, whilst ‘Arborist’ or particularly ‘Tree Surgeon’ can be. In France, what in English we consider a Forester is in fact ‘Sylviculteur’, a ‘Forestier’ is a much more encompassing term for what in translation can only really be a ‘Woodlander’. This is a name we have almost vilified in the 20th century to its near extinction alongside the cull of traditional forest skills and knowledge.  Arboriculturalists according to most spell checking software simply do not exist, which needs to be corrected.

The French rely on the baccalauréat system, which in simple terms allows someone to place a number after your name to register your years of training specifically in the field you have chosen to work in. On top of this there is a distinct difference, (and found within all the multiple choice ‘profession’ sections of websites for official or business online applications), between an arboriste, sylviculteur, arboriculturaliste etc., this subtle introduction of the correct terminology does a lot to empower those who hold such titles.

What is a modern Woodlander? It could surely range from the increasingly popular ‘bushcraft’ industry, modern craftsmen and women keeping old skills alive and introducing the traditional methods to create modern designs, through to and perhaps most importantly your local firewood supplier.

The financial angle is very important also. A ‘forestier’ is self financing. I did some basic research searching through several accounts of local communes in the Sud Vienne in relation to community owned woodlands. The average annual income per hectare of a commune owned woodland is€2800.00. The average expenditure is €0.60. All expenditure is the result of having to call in a Sylviculteur, the income is from the Forestier.

Just as a Landscaper could save money to businesses and domestic clients by enhancing and maintaining ecosystem services values, CO2 offsetting etc., a Woodlander could actually help pay into community, private and public sector woodland budgets. But the NGOs, Quangos, Carbon Consultants et al., won’t like that, they won’t like that at all – because where will be their cut? And anyway they helped ensure such values existed in the first place, which can be doubled through using volunteers to do work which in reality can only and should only be done by professionally qualified personnel.

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Filed under Forests, Natural Heritage, Trees and Woodlands

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