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Woodland Edge

My Journey into The National Forest

Woodland landscape

Just under two years ago my knowledge of The National Forest was a bit like my knowledge of today's technology ... I was aware of it but, whisper it, I wasn't that interested! Then, two things happened in a short space of time - we moved house and I was made redundant.

The significance of moving house? We were now living, or so the previous owner claimed, next to a small piece of The National Forest. And the redundancy? Well, that's where the story starts.

Signing on for the first time was scary and so were “the rules”. If the Job Centre provided you with details of a job which matched the criteria of your job search “you had to apply” or "your jobseekers allowance could be stopped". As a conformist, that was enough! And so during one of my fortnightly visits the (very nice) lady handed me a sheet of paper and said "here's one for you" - it was at The National Forest Company. Arriving home I began yet another online job application, and to my surprise and delight I was selected for interview - another tick on the job search sheet I thought! Then the research began...

My preconceptions of The National Forest ... I'd seen the signs on the M1 - come to think of it, they're on the signs as you enter my village - but I was not sure EXACTLY where it is.

I started (and finished) with the website. Well, didn't really finish as there's SO much information! I was trying to pull out what I thought were relevant pieces of information from this massive website - with two sides to it; the light side and dark side!

Not only did I discover that The National Forest did in fact cover 200 square miles (OMG really?!) it was also being targeted as a tourist destination (what?!) As I desperately tried to pick and choose information for the interview I thought of all the dozens and dozens of people who must be responsible for this website and the huge company that must be responsible for this Forest, which I now knew covered parts of Leicestershire, Derbyshire and Staffordshire. Not only that, it had all started in the mid-90's, was still (quite literally) growing and evolving all around the area I now lived in; transforming pit villages my Grandad had once worked in.

So I attended the interview armed with all this information only to be stumped (pardon the pun) by a question about my previous work! Oh well, I thought, another opportunity gone - but all good experience nonetheless.

However, much to my shock (but not yours obviously or I wouldn't be writing this eh?!) I got the job ... and the learning process proper started.

The reality is The National Forest is BIG. The National Forest Company is small (only 17 of us). The National Forest relies on the massive support of hundreds of landowners throughout the area who transform part of their land into parcels of National Forest, or rather, woodland within The National Forest; on the hundreds of supporters from all over the country who contribute by buying a tree as a gift and then come along and plant that tree; not forgetting our many partner organisations and sponsors - all striving to make the area we live in a better place.

The National Forest was billed as a Forest for the Nation, transforming the least wooded area of the country into a veritable mosaic – farmland, towns and villages, industrial areas, transport corridors, open space – all framed by woodland. It's not just a forest in a single spot, it's a wooded landscape.

I am now part of the small team trying to carry on this massive job in a world with ever changing priorities and unforeseen hurdles. There have been government cuts, there's the threat of Ash dieback, not to mention HS2 potentially speeding through the middle, but I'm proud to be part of the team making a difference to the area I live in ... a statement I think may have been on my job application!

But I'm not alone in my increased awareness. A recent survey has shown an increase in the number of people across the country who are aware of The National Forest - great news! It means progress is being made - and not just in planting trees. So as I continue my journey into The National Forest, I will try and share what I learn and spread the message even further. As is sometimes said ... you just don't realise what's on your own doorstep!