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Remembrance Day 2018: The man tending the National Memorial Arboretum’s 30,000 trees

Author:  iNews
Last Updated:  12/11/2018

Published in iNews, Friday 9th November 2018

Jason Humphreys is a curator of the site of remembrance.

Jason Humphreys is a curator of the site of remembrance. Image © iNews

More than 350 memorials, including the national Armed Forces Memorial, are nestled among 30,000 trees at the 150-acre National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

As a curator of this site of remembrance, Jason Humphreys spends his days “planting trees, cutting hedges, cleaning memorials, helping with event preparations, surveying and inspecting trees, dealing with caterpillars, improving the woodlands and handling new dedication and memorial applications”.

The first trees were planted in the reclaimed quarry in Alrewas, on the edge of the National Forest, 21 years ago. The site attracts around 300,000 visitors a year from across the country and overseas, contributing £25m to the local economy. In the past two years, it has hosted 15 royal visits and many political figures.

“There aren’t enough hours in the day to do everything that we’d like to do and the weather can scupper any plans that we have,”

Says Mr Humphreys.

“This year alone has seen us go from coping with floods to struggling with drought-like conditions in a matter of weeks.”

A significant site

The 49-year-old has been at the arboretum for just over two years, though he has worked in arboriculture and horticulture for 18 years, having previously worked as a tree surgeon and a tree officer. He also spent a short while in Germany’s Black Forest, “climbing some enormous trees”.

The significance of the site makes the role even more special, he says. This year, as the Royal British Legion marks the centenary of the end of the First World War, the national monument has unveiled a Field of Remembrance with more than 18,000 tributes from both the public and servicemen and women.

The National Memorial Arboretum will be holding a Remembrance service on Sunday, beginning at 10.40am, after a candlelight vigil on Saturday night.

“It’s made me realise what a commitment and sacrifice people have made during times of conflict,” says Mr Humphreys. “One of the most poignant events for remembrance is undoubtedly the annual Armistice Day and Remembrance Day services. They really bring home the scale of sacrifice so many people have made and continue to make for this country.”

Mr Humphreys is a member of the Arboricultural Association and the Institute of Chartered Foresters.

“I continually need to keep abreast of developments and findings within the industry to keep that membership valid,”

He says.

“This year I attended a workshop run by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds on how to manage our woodlands for the benefit of our wildlife habitat – it was reassuring to know that a lot of what we do here at the arboretum is helping to encourage and sustain the diversity of wildlife.”

Indeed, he doesn’t just work with the trees.

“I enjoy the fact that there’s more going on. I’ve found out way more than I ever thought I would about the properties of different stones, which are often used in the memorials here.”

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