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Graduate Fiona loves woodland workplace
A YOUNG graduate is shaping her future with a new apprenticeship in the historic art of coppicing.
Pioneer apprentice Fiona de Wert has taken up a career in a Dorset woodland learning the ancient rural craft.
The 25-year-old will spend the next three years training with coppice and green wood on the Rempstone Estate, Isle of Purbeck.
She is the first trainee in the apprentice scheme which is aimed at stopping the decline of the traditional skill.
The apprenticeship is backed by a £250,000 investment from the education charity the Ernest Cook Trust (ECT) and run by the charity Small Woods in partnership with Dorset Wildlife Trust.
Fiona, who graduated from the University of Exeter with a degree in conservation biology and ecology, moved to Dorset to take up the apprenticeship.
She said: “I realised after my three years at university that the academic side isn’t for me.
“The thing that really sparked my interest was being practical, doing things with my hands.
“This apprenticeship is exactly the challenging learning environment I’ve been looking for.
“Hopefully the new skills I’ll learn will benefit the woodlands of Purbeck as well as allowing my creative side to flourish.”
When fully trained, Fiona hopes to set herself up as a self-employed coppicer, managing an area of woodland and making and selling coppicing products.
Coppicer and Fiona’s mentor Toby Hoad said: “Coppicing is a centuries-old and environmentally-friendly way of managing woodland.
“Trees are cut at ground level causing straight rods to grow, which are harvested to make products such as rustic furniture, garden hurdles and walking sticks.
“It has been identified as an endangered rural skill with an ageing workforce and a shortage of new recruits.
“Fiona de Wert is part of a new younger generation choosing the woodland as their workplace.”
Nicholas Ford, ECT director, said they are happy to support Fiona in her training.
He said: “Our investment in coppicing apprenticeships was made to celebrate the Trust’s 2012 Diamond Jubilee year, to help halt the decline in this traditional rural craft.
“It is so good to know that there is a younger generation eager to come in and learn these old skills and help keep them alive.”
Fran Fowkes, Small Woods apprenticeship officer, said coppicing needs to be kept alive.
She said: “This area has such a long history of coppice management that it is essential to keep it going.
“We are very grateful to the Ernest Cook Trust for supporting the coppice sector and providing this opportunity.”
The ECT funding will enable the training of a new coppicing apprentice every three years.