Climbing to the top: An apprentice’s trail to arboriculture – Elliott Dann

by | Feb 7, 2024 | Apprentices, Features, Latest, Opinion

Taking place between the 5 and 11 February 2024, National Apprenticeship Week highlights the popular alternative to joining the world of work. We teamed up with Merrist Wood College, the 400-acre, multi-award-winning college that specialises in the land-based industries, to find out more.

Name: Elliott Dann

Industry: Arboriculture

Course/apprenticeship: Level 2 Arborist Standard

How did you first come into the industry?

I became interested in the industry as I had become interested in foraging and bushcraft through camping. I had worked previously as a mechanic but found the industry had its problems and I was always drawn to the outside to decompress from a week’s work. I had family working at Heckfield Farm and they recommended I apply for an apprenticeship.

Can you tell us a bit about your apprenticeship?

At Heckfield Place Woodland and Farm we manage the trees of the estate as well as introduce new and rare species.

We inspect and manage trees on the estate for any deadwood, low hanging branches or hazards over paths and trails on the grounds. We also conserve and maintain trees on the estate with reductions, bracing, re-pollarding and dismantling and felling only when necessary. Any usable timber is milled for crafts and projects on site. I am also involved in invasive species management such as the removal of rhododendron ponticum from our woodland.

I started in November 2023 and my day to day included climbing, chainsaw maintenance, tree propagation tree identification.

How big is the company?

Heckfield place is a large business and employs up to 200 people. On the estate there is a hotel, gardens, and grounds, working farm and nursery and approximately 200 acres of woodland.

The arb team manages around 200 acres of woodland and trees around the formal areas of the estate. We also collect and propagate the trees from existing trees on site. Propagating saplings and manages the woodlands and trees on the estate.

We don’t so much cater to clients as we are a static site, but we make sure the woodland looks looked after for the hotel guests to walk around as well as maintaining trees on the estate for safety.

Why choose an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship gives you working knowledge as soon as you walk into the door, compared to a full-time college course where learning is fixed on a certain timetable. As an apprentice you have to adapt to different jobs and solve problems that a book won’t tell you about.

My normal week currently involves working a full days Monday to Thursday then going into Merrist Wood College on a Friday to consolidate knowledge over the week.  

What are the biggest challenges that you’re experiencing at the moment?

Currently my tree identification is pretty weak at the moment, but this will change the longer I am working with the team on the job.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

Completing my chainsaw maintenance and cross cutting course as well completing my first climb with a two-rope system.

What are your plans for the future?  

After my time at Heckfield I am hoping to branch out and run my own arborist business in the future.

If you had any words of wisdom for the future generations joining the industry, what would they be?

Double check your own actions and ensure you do everything to the best of your ability.  

National Apprenticeship Week (NAW) is an opportunity for the education and skills sector to celebrate the achievements of apprentices around the country and the positive impact they make to communities, businesses, and the wider economy.”

According to the government, an apprenticeship is a paid job where the employee learns and gains valuable experiences. Combining on-site training with classroom based learning, apprenticeships spend on average 20% of their time in a college or university environment, allowing for up to 80% of their time to be used for hands-on, paid experience. Leading to a nationally recognised qualification, apprenticeships continue to grow in popularity.

We teamed up with Merrist Wood College, the 400-acre, multi-award-winning college that specialises in the land-based industries, to find out more.

“Get the best of both worlds: the ability to earn while you learn.” – Merrist Wood College

When becoming an apprentice, you’ll be working for a company – receiving wages, holiday pay, and statutory sick pay, whilst also training or studying for a formal qualification. Merrist Wood College work alongside businesses that provide genuine jobs where apprentices are treated and respected like any other employee. They typically work a minimum of 30 hours a week on a contract that lasts at least 12 months. Programmes usually last for between one to two years and offer a direct route into employment. “Employers are keen to hire people who can hit the ground running,” says Merrist Wood College.

“Apprenticeships aren’t just for school leavers: nearly a third of our current apprentices are over the age of 19. So, whatever your age, get in touch to kickstart your career!” – Merrist Wood College