The student life

Time to put the soil back in around the root ball

The lockdown caused by COVID caused many of us to reflect on our priorities. 

I was working in adult social care as a support worker.  I enjoyed taking some of the service users on day outings to explore nature.  Then during the first lockdown, I found myself taking my two young children on regular visits to woodland near where we live.

‘Tree Lady’ Charlotte Bancroft talks to children about the root system of a tree

As I sat on a bench and watched my two exploring, I found them coming back to me with treasures of twigs, leaves, seeds and bits of bark.  It took me back to my own childhood, spent exploring nature.  I had an epiphany; why could this not be my work?   I had no idea about careers involving trees and began exploring.

Myerscough College, near Preston in Lancashire, is the national college for arboriculture.  It is less than half an hour from home, and a place I had visited with service users to participate in various activities.  Once I had decided on arboriculture, studying here was the obvious choice.  It wasn’t long before I was contacting the college, asking about becoming a mature student.  What began as a question, ‘could this happen?’, was soon becoming reality.

Putting their backs into it – the youngsters dig a hole for a tree

I left school after taking A’Levels.  I took a course to study ‘Advanced G.N.V.Q Business & Finance’ at Blackpool & The Fylde College, and then took a range of courses including Adult Social Care, and now have a young family.

The college is very supportive of people in my situation, offering both part time and full time courses and distance learning.  I soon found myself, in September 2020, enrolled on the Foundation Degree in Arboricultue, along with 13 other students, 3 of them mature such as myself.

A new world opened up.  I was now attending classes such as ‘Tree health and the role of fungi’, led by Dr. Duncan Slater, and Geoff Simpkin was sharing his passion for ecology.  I was hooked. For practical sessions, I was growing fungi in cultures and walking around the campus trying to find samples of Phytophtora, a genus of plant damaging oomycetes. It felt surreal, but also exciting.

The lockdown of January 2021 was tough.  Having experienced in-person classes, moving on-line felt strange.  There were no guests, no field trips, no walking the campus.  I was so pleased to be back in class. I am loving student life.  I am probably appreciating the experience more as a mature student.  I have to juggle work with being mum to my young children.  This means that studying time needs to be focused.

During this second year, each student has been working on an ‘Industry Project’.  One student has been working on sustainable tree guards.  I was involved with planting trees at my children’s primary school.   I am known as the Tree Lady! I saw potential to plant trees in other schools as part of the Queen’s Green Canopy project for the Jubilee.  I decided to do this as part of Arbor Day, an international event to promote arboriculture in communities.

I was given funding from the Arboricultural Association to purchase 10 trees for 10 schools.  I visited a tree nursery to get the trees, which are 2-3 metres in size.  I then approached 10 schools to arrange visits and meet with the children who were going to help to plant the trees.

Now that we are back in classes, the field trips have resumed with visits to a managed Ancient woodland at Eaves Wood at Silverdale and Cuerdon Valley park.  I’ll share more about them and other lectures next time.

If you are interested in a career in arboriculture visit www.trees.org.uk

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Preparing the school grounds for new trees

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Charlotte Bancroft has made an impression

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Once the tree is planted, the pupils learn about the role of the stake

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Next time I’ll bring my Wellington boots!

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Charlotte holds the staked tree in position as soil is returned to the hole

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