I arrived at Tom’s house at 6:15am, on the outskirts of Woodingdean in Brighton. Tom was preparing breakfast which included two types of cereal and a spoon of honey. He made me a cup of peppermint tea, in a flask, so I could take it with me in the car. He had a big box of clothes that he was going to change into once we arrived at his boss’s house/work HQ.
We left Tom’s house, leaving his wife, who is 7 months pregnant with a gentle goodbye through the door. It was still dark outside, the sun was not due to rise for almost an hour. Tom scraped ice of the car windows and we set off on our journey west to Madehurst.
My name is Tom Warburton
I had the normal standard upbringing through Primary School to Secondary School in Wiltshire. It was a single Secondary School town, so you literally knew everyone. Every year you'd have to go out and do something outdoorsy, be that a survival course or walking up through the Cotswolds or something like that.
I didn't do A levels. I wanted to take it another step further, so I did an HND in adventurous activity management, and that was down in Cornwall, in a place called Callington just off Dartmoor. After that, I moved to Worthing, I worked in an outdoor shop for a while, just kicking my heels trying to decide what to do. I worked in a factory at GlaxoSmithKline in Worthing, which I can cope with but it wasn't outdoorsy.
While there I thought that I have to do something, so I went off and did some volunteering. I volunteered for the local conservation trust, and I decided to do a course at Plumpton Agricultural College in Countryside management. They set you up to do scientific studies and become an academic or researcher or something, or you could go off and become a National Trust Warden or something like that.
I didn't go on to expand that because we had to do work experience while at Plumpton College, and that’s how I hot my job I’m in now.
My parents loved the outdoors, that's what I put it down to, my brother's pretty outdoorsy. He doesn't work outdoors, but we're both outdoorsy, we're both active. We're always out walking.
I think it is literally just being outside. My parents are very enthusiastic and very active. They both walk constantly, just outside basically loving nature.
I think they're proud of me being a Forester.
My earliest memory of work? That was probably my first part-time job and then it was the typical paper rounds, getting up that stupid o'clock in the morning all winter and not getting paid very much.
With the company I work for now, I did one day before I actually got employed with this guy. We were extracting Big Timber from a National Trust nature Reserve in Sullington and taking that to Amberley chalk-pit museums. They were making railway sleepers on their Sawmill, and showing the visitors what they're doing.
A typical day at work. This morning we had to put a winch cable back on a tractor. We had to deliver some logs, and then we went to a client that's just got a new place, and he's got quite a lot of land. We're fencing his field basically, so we went and dug holes and shoved posts into the ground which we milled ourselves, which is another aspect of the job that I really enjoy.
He also has a neighbouring woodland, and we're due to go in there and do some management for that. We ran out of fence posts, so we went into his woods and did some coppice work rejuvenating a declining SSSI or site of special scientific interest and trying to reinstate a good management plan for that.
I finish at quarter to five and hit the traffic again. Once I’m home it's usually a bit of DIY before dinner, and then a bit of TV time just to shut down. I hit the sack pretty early, by 930 I'm usually in bed.
Tom and Andrew both got changed into their work wear, which consisted of tough trousers, waxed coats, boots and protective headgear. All looked like it had seen a lot of hard work. Tom told me that he doesn’t leave his boots at work because he likes to put his feet in warm rather than freezing cold boots. Tom loaded fuel into a special container for the chainsaws and we listened to Andrew described what we’d be doing today.
Tom and Andrew set about chopping (with an axe) and sorting the wood and then loading it onto the truck. It turns out size is important when it comes to chopping wood. They have to consider whether it will fit into the truck, the customers porch, a fire or how it might be used on a larger scale. Before reversing out, Tom had to clear ice from the side mirrors and the insides of the van windows, it was so cold.
There's two of us at work, so there's that social aspect. The yard is opposite my boss's house so i've known his children since they were babes in arms and his wife I've known obviously for nine years. I quite often drop his kids off at school, and I quite often pick them up at school if my boss is off doing some logs somewhere. So I find that's a social bit.
Obviously me and my boss get on fine, we've never had a falling out in nine years. We just crack on and go. You kind of think ‘oh, they just work in a wood the don't see anyone’, but you get a hell of a lot of walkers. We work with the local farmers, we work with the local National Trust Wardens.
We saw a log customer today, we had a chat with them, and my boss has known them for years and years and years and years. There's a kind of friendship there already. But then some days if I'm working on my own I could be in a wood with a slasher hook weeding out a plantation, and I won't see anyone from when I leave the house to when I get back to see Martine [my wife] again. That's okay.
To a certain extent, I don't think the public know what I do. I had a real extreme situation when I was working a wood in Slindon for the National Trust. It's a plantation that hasn't been managed for the last 20 or 30 years, so it needed a bit of a kick start.
I was felling some very out-there trees. I met someone new yesterday, and she asked me what I did. People are just interested because they see a Forester and they think ‘oh maybe he's a lumberjack who cuts wood and that's all he does’. But our job is a little bit different because we do absolutely everything from the planting to the felling to the logs to the making the furniture (fencing) at the end.
Before we headed off into the woods, they filled up the fuel in their chainsaws, and as we walked to the section Tom was working in he gave me a safety talk. I was to wear my helmet at all times, and to pull my visor down at times when trees were coming down and I was close by. Ear defenders were optional depending on how close I was to the chainsaw. Tom showed me some hand signals that I might find useful - both hands and arms pointing in the direction a tree might fall, hands on head to watch for falling debris. He talked about the best place to stand when a tree was being cut down. Not directly behind, because as a tree falls it might shoot backwards, and not to the side, because it might roll.
He then started to chop down a surpressed oak. The process starts with a gob cut, which is an angular piece chopped out that affects where the tree will fall. This is followed by a series of cuts behind, with the tree gradually succumbing to the chainsaw’s teeth and getting to the point where it begins a slow lean towards the gob cut, and then falls with creaks and cracks and a final crash as it hits the ground. It’s a very nice audio experience, because it feels like such a build up, the sound of the saw, the saw stopping, the creaks, the crash, and then a gentle sounds of small pieces of nature moving and falling to the ground, readjusting to the lack of tree standing.
A tree being felled, recorded in binaural sound.
The tree fell exactly where he wanted it to, and once it had fallen he started to chop it into pieces, measuring length with the chainsaw, the right size to fit in the trailer later on. He piles them up neatly.
What’s it like to be a forester
Most people are interested by it because they've never really met a Forester, especially in a city like Brighton, even though there are more true surgeons than trees in Brighton. So a lot of the time if I tell them what I do for the first time and I say forester, they say, "so do you climb trees"? We do all our management on the ground, and we do big spaces rather than just a single kind of species.
Audio: I personally feel that the public still perceive forestry as ripping down a rain forest somewhere. It can be very unattractive in a wood once a forester has been through. We try very hard to make it neat and tidy and sometimes when we've finished it doesn't look pretty. Give it six months or three months for the spring to start, and it will be beautiful again. My boss Andrew, he explains our business as conscientious forestry. So we try and be a bit more careful. audioend
The thing I enjoy most about our job is the variety because it's seasonal. I can go for months without felling a tree. One of the things I really do like is that we plant the trees, we fell the trees, we mill the trees, and then we use the trees. Fell it, mill it, build it. The variety of every season is different. You're out there and you see so much different wildlife. You see you see the foxgloves and bluebells popping up. You see the different butterflies and the birds migrating.
Audio: I value my job massively because I'm outdoors and I'm not that stressed. My wife has quite a stressful job, she runs her own company, I don't have that issue. I go to work, I do the job, I come home and I can I can switch off. I quite enjoy that. audioend
It's the physical side of it as well, I value that because I don't have to go to the gym. I feel fit, I'm out in fresh air, I eat well. There's not a great deal of money as an employed Forester. I think it's an average wage is the UK average basically, so I'm never going to make millions. But I'm okay with that. My parents are kind of proof that you don't have to have these big payroll jobs to succeed in life and have a great life and a great family.
At the weekends my body clock takes over, and I'm up. I might get to 7 o'clock, might get to half seven but I'm up, and I'm gone. I don't necessarily work from that time, but I'll get up, and I'll sit in front of the TV just to relax for a while before we have to get on and do something, but it's busy times at home as well. At the end of March we've got a baby coming and we've got a house to decorate, nest-building. We've only got two rooms to do, it'll be okay, but it's everything, replastering, new floors everything.
With most people work is the majority of their life. It's what you spend the most time doing, and I'm lucky that I enjoy being outdoors on the weekend as well.
Audio: I think the only major effect it has on my life is that it tires me out. Sometimes I get home and I don't feel like I need to go out on a sunny day. My wife can get annoyed with that because she's sitting behind a desk indoors all day and she wants to get out and do something. I'm normally quite happy just to go and get out because that's why I do a job because I want to be outside. So why not do on the weekend as well?audioend
I think you have to be happy in your job role, I think you have to look forward to getting up. There's a lot of people that get up in the morning that don't want to go to work. I get up, and I really don't mind going to work. There are not many days that I get up and go ‘oh crap I have to go to work’. It's just on some really grizzly wet damp days when I think I don't want to do that job today, but my boss is pretty good. If it's really grizzly and we get wet in the morning, we'll get dry and we might just shorten the day because we're getting grumpy.
Audio: It’s hard when you are logging or splitting logs with cold frosty fingers, and they just don't warm up, or you're sawing, and your toes don't warm up because you've got steel toe cap boots on which have frozen by nine o'clock in the morning. Luckily It doesn't get that cold down south.audioend
The recent mild weather has been really good, it's allowed us to do so much more. We've been doing this fencing job for quite a while, It's quite a long stretch. We dig holes by hand basically, and they're two foot deep, so we’re using our hands a lot to get the soil out. If it's nasty, horrible and wet, the holes are filled with water before we’ve managed to get the posts in
Audio: We're very hands-on. We even split our own logs by hand, and a lot of foresters or log suppliers will do it all with a processor that grabs the log, splits it, cuts it and throws it in a big pile. Audioend
We do think differently to a lot of other companies in the fact that there's a lot of people that just go for the profit. We might do 200 tons of logs a year by hand, but we like to spread it out. We don't want to spend the four or five months of winter just doing logs. We'd get bored out of our brains.
If you've got a processor you have to have a tractor attached to it. So a tractors lots of money, the processor is lots of money, and you've got to keep it running to make your money back. I think people get sucked into buying processors because they think, 'that's a big processor, that'll make me really quick and really good, and it will expand my business'. But it's not always true. If you do it by hand, you can do it quick, and you don't waste 40,000 pounds on the setup or whatever It is. It doesn't have to be that pricey.
The opposite of work
The opposite of work? It's got to be leisure I think. It's the chilling out, it's reaping the rewards. There's that saying 'you work to live not live to work'. So yeah, you can't stress and that's why I like the fact I can cut my job off, and I don't have to worry about paying the bills for a whole load of staff say?
There's a few things, embarrassing things I've done like a broken a few things by mistake. I don't embarrass easy. I was strimming, and I was too lazy to move the truck, I hit a rock, bing goes the passenger side window, and that's it gone. That's gonna make me sound really clumsy.
Another time, I was rushing, my boss's wife wanted to get the car out, so I had to reverse the truck, the passenger door was open, I didn't see the tree and crunched the door. It's things like that, things I feel guilty for. I think when you're rushing, or your minds elsewhere you can just nick the wrong bit, or you don’t see a sprag that was lent under a tree which you just released, and it comes up and knocks you. Things like that happen.
Audio: One time, I didn't see that a branch that was touching a tree I was felling was dead on top. What I saw from below was fine. So I was felling away, tree goes, I'm still crouched down, as the tree starts falling the limb from the other tree pops out and cracks me straight across the back. If that had hit me slightly differently, I could have been in serious trouble. These are the things I wouldn't tell my mum. audieend
Anything missing in life
I'm pretty happy. You can always get sucked into thinking ‘if I just had a little bit more money, I'd like to not have my mortgage’ that would help a lot. It would mean more life, more living, we're doing up a campervan at the moment, and we could actually afford to do it and go off and travel. We've got a child on the way, and it would just be nice to have a bit more money,
Audio: but I'm also a bit stubborn in the fact that I don't have to have big payrolls, I'm pretty stubborn in the fact that I should be able to live my life with what I've got. I'm happy with that. audioend
When I was growing up I was doing quite a sport and played a fair bit of rugby. For a while I felt like my parents didn't encourage me in sport. I saw my friend's parents taking them to the rugby, I saw them at the Rugby field, and my parents weren't there every weekend. But I've come to the conclusion that they were inspiring me in different ways really and they did support me in everything I did.
Audio: I was never that academic at school and they never put loads of pressure on me to do my A levels. They were happy for me just to be enjoying what I'm doing and I think they could tell that I was interested in stuff, it just wasn't quite the academic role of school in education. audioend
I'd like to take that onto my kid kids. Who knows? I just want them to be good honest people basically. My wife and her family are quite driven and I think we'll make a good balance between the two of us. I'm a little bit more chilled out than her, and I think it'll work well the fact that we can we can both bring our own sides, and hopefully, we'll have a perfectly balanced child.