There I stayed until, at 20, I left the UK and began working on small farms in Italy, gardening in return for free accommodation. Something clicked. I loved it, the sweat, the digging, and the growing.
Returning to the UK, I began a diploma in Horticulture within The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. This ignited an interest that led me to The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and their tree team on work experience. I was addicted. Within a year, an apprenticeship became available. I applied immediately and after graduating from Edinburgh, I moved down to London and never looked back.
How it feels
Exhilarating, exhausting and completely inspiring. I have climbed the highest trees in Kew, learning practical climbing techniques. I have felled dead trees whilst learning to manage a botanical collection using a holistic approach, with continued surveillance alongside technology that looks at root plate repair as well as external structure and disease.
As part of the apprenticeship, I study through a land-based college to gain certification on our equipment, saws, aerial rescue and climbing technique to contribute to the team and my future career.
There are never two days the same in our department, from numerous call outs to inspect broken limbs or fallen trees across the 300 acres. Typically, we remove dead wood, climb to inspect and prune species from across the globe. The job is as unique as it comes.
My favourite trees at Kew?
I think for anyone who loves trees, the answer will be ever changing depending on the season, from autumnal colour, bark texture, or even their spring flowers. The magnolias blew me away last spring at Kew and their bright early pink hues looked like candyfloss clouds in amongst the frosty vistas. In autumn, my eyes search for our dawn redwoods, known grandly as Metasequoia glyptostroboides. They proudly stand as giants showcasing their illuminated golden autumnal foliage.
Why are there so few woman within the industry?
During World War II, 6000 of The Woman’s Timber Corps, a separate branch of the Women’s Land Army, otherwise known as Lumber Jills, picked up the axe to maintain timber production when Norway became occupied by Germany. 78 years later, it is still seen as uncommon for women to work in the industry.
Arboriculture is seen as a primarily male-dominated industry due to the misrepresentation of the ‘lumberjack’ image, portraying strapping men with big saws.
As a fresh face in arboriculture, in age as well as ability, I learn in an environment where my accomplishments and enthusiasm are worth more than my gender (as you would expect). However, I want to emphasise that isn’t the case for all women within the industry and many struggle to gain footing.
Cecily Withall, aged 25, is a full-time Arboriculture apprentice at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Course level: Level 2 in Arboriculture, Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA)