Tilhill Forestry, April, 2019

How one phone call can change your life!

My name is Luke Cross, and I am an Assistant Forest Manager for Tilhill Forestry, based in North Wales. My day to day role is to support my line manager John Ferguson in managing over 2000ha of a variety of woodlands from commercial upland to conservation focused lowland woodlands. Our ‘patch’ stretches from Bala back into Shropshire and Staffordshire from the Cheshire plain down to Ludlow and back to Bala. This is a world away from where I have come from and I am going to talk about my journey from urban life to the most inspiring career I could ever have dreamed of.

It all started back when I left school in the West Midlands, Wolverhampton to be exact and determined to work with my hands with very little interest in the classroom environment. You could say I was a problem child but really, it was boredom that held my academic achievements back. It was easy and only logical for me to fall into plumbing, to join my old man and carry on the family trade.

Five long-years of rinse and repeat work started to take its toll; Could I see myself doing this for 40 years? What else is there? The only escape on the rare days off was to drive as far into Wales as we could and embrace the beautiful landscapes for as long as possible before returning to the rat race.

Then, one day and while watching a show called axe-men on the Discovery Channel with my now wife, it hit me, I said “I’d love to do something like that”. Naïvely thinking it was only something that happened in large wilderness woodlands, surely not in Britain… but what a dream that would be, a job in-line with my passion for getting outdoors and working with my hands!

Fortunately, I am blessed with a very driven wife who could see plumbing wasn’t fitting well with our lives. After a few days a note appeared on the kitchen counter “phone this person on ….”, it was a number for a college lecturer, and now good friend of mine, wanting to discuss the possibilities of studying Countryside Management. What did that mean? How could I fit it in with work? Could it offer a job? Could we afford it? No harm in a phone call….

How one phone call can change your life! The conversation was so outside of my comfort zone. Some days we would have to work on the farm to help with livestock, but most lectures are practical, and you learn about gamekeeping, fencing, woodland management etc.

The open day was a tour of the grounds, looking over the prize-winning Herefords, checking the release pens, eyeing up future fencing replacements and motor-manual thinning operations. I had very little clue what was happening that day but looking back I can remember the excitement of glimpsing into the rural world, something I never thought was possible.

After two years at college, four years at university and a final year doing a MSc in Forest Management at Harper Adams I discovered the world of forestry and all the possible careers on offer. Now, having successfully joined Tilhill Forestry via their Graduate Scheme, I can honestly say I am living the dream!

This is the first instalment of a series of blogs I am writing, and you could see this as an introduction to me. The next instalment will be looking at my day to day life at Tilhill Forestry’s North Wales office and some of the guys I get to work with! Especially when you ask them to proof read your blog and they spend the rest of the day quoting it back at you! #banter….!