Chainsaw Training as a Volunteer Reserves Officer!

 

Jess Wilson one of our Volunteer Reserves Officers explains what it was like chainsaw training for the first time..

Five days of sweat, agony and muscle cramps… You know you’ve had a tough week when you’re driving home and your hands seize up on the steering wheel preventing you from changing gears… having to pull into a service station just so you can gain some more dexterity back… Well that’s how my week has been, but funnily enough, even after my first couple of days contemplating why the hell I’m doing this, I actually thoroughly enjoyed it…

The first day we spent learning about the chainsaw and why we were on that course, how to maintain it and learning the different bits and bobs that go together to make it work. I’m the kind of person who likes to know how things work, rather than just knowing they work.

 

Jess tackling the chainsaw

Robert Mordecai was our instructor, you could tell just by the way he talks that he’s been in this industry a while and any questions I had, or anyone had for that matter, he answered straight away without hesitation. In a little lockup on an industrial estate in Sunderland we spent the first day indoors learning the theory side of the course while getting to grips with maintaining it before we go out into the field.

Day two was a relatively chilled day, to start with. Getting to grips with how to turn the chainsaws on and getting used to the safety features before being set lose on preparing a few pines. The course was honestly an amazing experience, so insightful but absolutely exhausting. Being the only girl on the course I did at first feel a bit out of my depth, in all honesty. But Rob pushed me and helped build my confidence; I like to think I ended the course with as much capability as my fellow students.

I felled my first tree on the Tuesday (still day two). I was shaking and my heart was in my mouth… Rob had placed me right next to the vehicles (nowhere near his though!) which meant if I messed up… I’d really mess up, big time… But I think in him doing this it made me focus more and calm down. Well it worked, no vehicles were damaged! It’s all about believing in your capabilities and the instructions of your instructor. After the first tree I calmed down and became eager to get into the next one.

Now, I am straying a little bit off topic but this is one aspect of the week I just couldn’t miss out on telling you all…

The days begin at 09:00, pretty much everyone except me were local to the area to some degree. This meant I was usually the last one on site as I was always stuck on the motorway. Anyway, one morning I pull up to our usual meeting point in Blagdon to begin our training when one of my fellow students and Rob were laughing outrageously. Turns out the young railway worker on the course with me had mistaken a Hare for some kind of mutated, sandwich stealing, dog-sized rabbit and had locked himself in his work van in case it stole his sandwiches… Now to me, that sounded hilarious… Obviously, I knew what a Hare looked like even though I’d not long seen my first ever wild one. But to those who rarely see wildlife, or have little interest in wildlife, the sight of such a large creature when normally we are used to seeing European Rabbits is quite daunting. None the less, it was our Banter for the entire week…

We weren’t going to let him live it down, Rob made sure of that!

Out of all the days, day three had to be the most difficult of all. I don’t know whether it was because it was the first full day of felling, the others on my course were flying way ahead of me through their trees or because it was the middle of the week. But it was exhausting. Physically and mentally. Four trees to fell, brash up and log up by myself. It was the tidying of brash and moving the three metre length logs that almost killed me, even on task days with the trust we don’t carry stuff as heavy as that. In fact, a task day seems more like a spa day in comparison now…

 

By day four I felt more competent and found myself becoming less tired even though I was doing just as much, if not more, as the previous day. Perhaps I was tenser the previous day or not manoeuvring the chainsaw in an energy efficient manor compared to this day. All I knew was I felt great! My confidence was sky high, I was getting good at felling and brashing efficiently, I knew two felling techniques which I was comfortable with and I could bring down a hung-up tree if I needed to.

The last training day was nice and short, a bit of brashing up then a new felling technique on a tree. We went over methods and answered some questions ready for the assessment the following Monday, it was a nice chilled day.

What I admired most about Rob and his method of teaching people was his relaxed state of mind and not only did he teach us how to safely fell trees successfully, but he taught us how to fix mistakes. It’s all fare and well doing a job properly, but sometimes whether it be weather permitted or a complete fluke of chance, some things do go wrong. So, we might have been able to successfully felled trees in under good conditions but knowing how to deal with problems or faults is just as necessary. Which is what has made him so successful in his trade.

But all in all, it was an amazing experience and one I am thankful to Durham Wildlife Trust for giving me the opportunity to do. Training courses like this open so many doors in this industry, so whenever an opportunity for extra training arises, grab it!

Now for my assessment… Wish me luck!