Dave Mackay, Tree & Woodland Ranger

As the title would suggest, I look after the thousands of trees across Ferry Meadows, Orton Mere, Thorpe Meadows, and the Rural Estate. This is only possible with the help of the park management team and when necessary outside contractors for larger projects which require specialist equipment. 

The main objectives are public safety, tree care to create a beautiful environment and a large diverse range of habitats which in turn gives a greater variety of plants and animals.

Public safety is a high priority, but is not an exact science when it comes to trees. Trees will do whatever they need to do to survive. They will drop branches suddenly, spread their canopies lower to the ground, shut down areas of the tree which will die leaving dead wood waiting to fall, just to name a few. All of which can cause a danger to the public.

To help reduce the danger posed by some trees we manage this by using various techniques; crown reduction, crown lifting, pollarding, and coppicing to name a few.

Crown reduction reduces the canopy area and makes the trees less susceptible to damage from strong winds, also allowing light into the woodlands.

Crown lifting raises the lower branches so they don't cause a problem with people passing below the canopy. This also allows more light in, prompting new growth in the understory of the woodland.

Pollarding is a technique where by the canopy is removed to a height of 3-5m. Pollards were used to grow long straight poles for uses such as in buildings and fencing, and prevented animals from grazing the new growth. It also extends the life of the trees which is generally why we do it in the Park, rather than removing potentially dangerous trees where appropriate.

Coppicing was used to produce thin, long, flexible timber for use in hurdles, hedge laying, basket making and many other uses. It is achieved by reducing the tree to 15-30cm above the ground, this promotes new growth. It's cut in rotation to create a constant supply of material to use. We also do this to reduce the understory, allowing light to reach the ground and plants to flourish.

Something the team often encounter are comments such as “why are you always cutting down trees, they are good for the environment”. I am a tree lover, who regularly climbs and sit in trees, observing all the creatures, fungi, lichen and other species that rely on trees. I don't just cut down trees for the fun of it, but as part of my job and in the interest of public safety, it's a necessity to remove trees that pose a danger to the visitors of Nene Park.

There are other reasons for felling trees. There are many diseases and viruses that affect trees and plants, Ash dieback, acute oak decline, Chestnut cankers to name a few. By removing some trees, it allows the already present seed bank an opportunity to germinate, producing stronger more resilient trees and plants for the next generation of trees, plants and people.

I think it is worth mentioning that tree work is one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. This means that every time the team does any tree work they are putting themselves in danger to protect others.

Finally, trees are living and breathing and have their own agenda, they have many of the same problems as us, finding food and water, breeding, fighting disease and the elements, finding the right places to live and competing with their neighbours, all of which makes them special to me.