Inspired by trees at Ickworth
Dee Gathorne-Hardy’s first experiences of forests were in the tropical Malay jungle. He now works in rather a different landscape - as an area ranger on the 1800-acre Ickworth Park Estate.
Living in Malaysia until the age of eight, Dee learned about nature and the outdoors in dense, humid rainforest. On his return to the UK, he continued to appreciate the woodland, this time in the Suffolk countryside. He’s been working for us for 17 years and lives on the estate with his family.
His role includes managing the estate’s woodland by harvesting non-native conifers to supply woodchip to fuel biomass boilers that heat part of the property.
When did you become interested in becoming a ranger?
I’ve always loved nature and lived in the countryside. I decided on a future career path in forest management in my teens after taking part in a Duke of Edinburgh conservation camp in Surrey. I enjoyed it so much that I made the decision to work outdoors.
What does a typical work day entail?
I work with two other rangers and a team of volunteers to manage the estate’s woodland and parkland. We manage the land for conservation and access and our work is very seasonally dependent. In autumn and winter we focus on our wood fair, coppicing, woodland thinning, harvesting and planting in the park. During spring and summer access, path maintenance and presentation of the park are our priorities.
What are the challenges?
We look after such a large area with only few of us doing it so we have to be as efficient as possible. There is a limited budget so we often have to be very resourceful with our time and equipment. A changing environment, tree diseases, improving access and enriching visitors’ experiences are some of our challenges.
Do you enjoy your work?
I love working outside and find it rewarding to see the benefits that go hand in hand with woodland management and nature conservation. We are responsible for the care of trees that are 500-600 years old. We’ve even got an oak tree that’s 700 years old. We have a wood fair at Ickworth every autumn where we sell good quality timber. It’s rewarding to see hobbyists take it away to make into furniture and cabinets.
What sort of wildlife do you see on the estate?
We have a good range of species that you would associate with old parkland and woodland. There are some very old trees at Ickworth which are particularly special. There are various wildlife species associated with these trees including bats, rare invertebrates, fungi and lichens.
What are your plans for Ickworth over the next few years?
We're planning more planting in the park, further harvesting for the biomass boiler, conservation work on the old trees, new trails and cycle routes, new leaflets and interpretation.