National Tree Week – A Day in the Life of a Woodland Catchment Officer

This Tree Week, we’ve caught up with Caitlin Pearson at West Cumbria Rivers Trust, who is working on the Woodlands for Water project. Find out more about her role and the importance of woodland creation…

Matthew Woodard


Please can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a Woodland Catchment Officer…

I’ve always been particularly interested in rivers; they really captured my imagination early on.

As a result, I did a lot of studying around them. I did an undergraduate degree in Environmental Sciences and then came out, typically, right as there was a financial crash, so the best thing for me to do at the time was to do a PhD.

Alongside this, I did a few placements with Wildlife Trusts, conducting surveys with Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and spent a summer as an outdoor tutor as well. I found it helpful to get practical experience alongside the formal qualifications so I could get a better understanding of what I was learning.

My first full-time job was with the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, delivering projects focusing on water quality on farms. Which transitioned nicely into my current role! Originally, I was looking at natural flood management and more recently moving into woodland creation. I’m now coming up to seven years working for West Cumbria Rivers Trust.

Can you tell us a bit more about why specifically rivers?

They’re just magical, aren’t they?

They’re so enclosed but they link the whole catchment together. I studied a lot of physical geography and find it fascinating that the way that rivers work, determines the ecology of a river and what species you find in them.

I love how they can be so variable and their nature of constantly moving.

What does a typical day look like?

Focusing specifically on the woodland side of things, it’s very varied day to day. While I’d rather be outside a lot of the role is spent in the office. It’s important to think carefully when planning a woodland, as they become a permanent feature of the landscape.

We have to make sure everyone has an opportunity to feed into the proposals, which does mean that there’s a diligent process behind it. But that’s the whole point, Catchment and Woodland Officers are here to make the whole process as easy as possible for landowners to plant woodlands. So, a lot of my job is doing that background work; mapping and checking we’re doing the right thing.

We also have great opportunities to go out, to meet land managers and to look at their farms and design their woodland. We also do a handful of planting days, which is amazing to see the woodland actually come to fruition and for the trees to go in the ground, after you spend so long designing them.

Can you tell us more about the highlights and challenges of your work?

I really enjoy that first meeting with someone, when they’re bubbling with excitement to show you their ideas and vision. Then after a good amount of work and planning as mentioned, it’s also so rewarding to see it go into the ground. When that vision has actually been created.

I imagine the real highlight for the Woodlands for Water project, will be in 10 years’ time, when we can go back to these sites and see them completely transformed into thriving woodland.

It’s not so much a challenge but sometimes it can be a lot of work to ensure we’re getting the right tree in the right place, which can include a fair amount of paperwork.

Another challenge is the difficult conversations with land managers, who are excited to create woodland, and you almost have to let them down because their plot isn’t right for whatever reason. For us in Cumbria, that tends to be wading birds. However, that does give us a chance to get them excited about what they do have on their land, for example wading bird habitat or wet habitat.

It’s explaining that it’s exciting to have those opportunities as well and they’re lucky to have them on their land too.

Anything else to add?

Just to say how much I enjoy working on the Woodland for Water project. It’s nice to be part of a project that spans over multiple local river trusts. All the pathfinder leads are supportive and share helpful knowledge across the project. It’s also a great opportunity, funding and support wise, from the other partners involved to ensure we’re leaving a legacy of trees for the future.

West Cumbria RT are very excited to now have 29Ha signed off and five very happy landowners to make that happen. We’ve also helped a community interest company get a grant for 20Ha which will be a brilliant nature reserve near Cockermouth. We’re planting the first woodland in three weeks with community staff, volunteers, and apprentices.

Watch this space!

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