Engaging with woodland, trees, wood turning and carving

By Dan Nicholson-Smith, Short course student

Wood management

What made me take on the management of an 8 ½ acre woodland as a second career?!

I had been volunteering since 2017 for the National Trust and since finishing work as a Police Officer in August last year, I was encouraged by the Woodlands Officer to look at woodland management as a second career. At the same time friends bought a wood land to protect the area near the Ashdown Forest – a serendipitous connection. The Woodland Officer helped shape a ten-year plan to manage the woodland, that I submitted to the Forestry Commission which has now been accepted.

I had always been aware of the enormous personal benefits of spending time in the woods amongst these beautiful trees. The endorphins you get from good hard labour and seeing tangible results from this hard work.

My plan is to encourage and increase the wildlife in the area by reducing the number of Birch trees, encouraging the growth of native broad-leaved trees and creating glades of light.

Making with wood

Like many students on Short Courses at West Dean, I came through recommendation – from my wife who came on a course here a year ago. I wanted to explore wood as a material and see what I could make from it – for my own satisfaction, to connect back to the woodland I am going to manage and to provide income for the woodland.

The most pivotal roles in my job as a police officer were working with people in society that most need help: young offenders, those with mental health problems, those with substance abuse – all have chaotic lifestyles. I want to give them the opportunity to engage with nature and increase their awareness of the connection we have, and enjoy the beauty of the woods. I want to share with them the pleasure I get from making and connecting with this landscape.

What I really love about making is, not only the connection to the material, but the complete focus in the moment that is required. You forget about everything else and have to concentrate on your tools and material, which has the added benefit of supporting my mental wellbeing through mindful practice. 

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation has such a creative, relaxed and inspiring environment, I will be back for sure.

Aerial view of West Dean Estate

West Dean Estate

There are 2500 acres of managed woodland within the West Dean Estate. Within these are ancient woodland that have historically always been woodland. There are also several areas of Specific Scientific interest. West Dean is working closely with the Forestry Commission, Natural England and West Sussex Wildlife Trust to preserve some unique habitats across the Estate.