Meet Ross, our new Assistant Park Manager
27th April, 2020
From axe-throwing to protecting our Old Oak Wood, Ross tells us about his journey to his new job and how he’s keeping busy in the park during ‘lockdown’ to keep it safe and beautiful
What’s your background?
I’ve always loved the outdoors, having grown up surrounded by countryside, which I enjoyed being out and about in whenever possible. So always knew that I was going to work outdoors. I studied at SRUC Barony College, Scotland’s Rural College, and had two great years in Dumfriesshire studying forestry and arboriculture.
What jobs have you done since?
I’ve worked in most sectors of the forestry industry from working for a tree surgeon in the Scottish Borders then moving on to driving a £300,000 timber harvester throughout Scotland. I then went self-employed as a subcontractor. Although it included various aspects of forestry, it was mainly tree cutting with a chainsaw. I ultimately took up employment with them as a full time forester, happily living and working on the estate. This job consisted of all things tree related from looking after the wide range of trees on the estate, to clear felling with chainsaws, planting new forests and everything in between.
You went off-piste from forestry for a bit though. Tell us more.
I’d always wanted to go to Canada so I decided to shake things up a bit and as a very keen snowboarder took the big decision to just do it – to the ski resort of Whistler to be exact.
I got the job as an outdoor ranger at Whistler Kids, the local ski school. I was tasked with looking after and setting up all the learning areas on both Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. The wildlife there is outstanding and I was lucky to see a fantastic range from large brown bears and bear cubs to tiny humming birds.
While there I took a job that was quite different to take me through both the summer and winter seasons. I started working at Forged Axe as an axe throwing coach! From hosting rowdy stag and hen do’s to coaxing shy and introverted people out of their shell until they are throwing axes with a sort of primal glee made it fun. I loved it and realised it was something I was naturally good at and I was lucky enough to take part in national axe throwing competitions too.
So why Assistant Park Manager at Dalkeith Country Park?
When the position of Assistant Park Manager came up at Dalkeith Country Park, I jumped at the chance. I could see that this job would be a great opportunity to combine a lot of my experience and skills. But most importantly it has given me the opportunity to concentrate on caring for a park that includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest – our SSSI old oak wood. It’s about balancing what’s best for the woodlands and parkland as well as the people using the park for their wellbeing and for having fun. I also like that I am much more of a protector of nature than I have been able to be in the past. This brings its own set of challenges being so close to one of our major cities and being surrounded by so many built up areas.
You’re a champion of the Old Oak Wood – what drives your passion and can you tell us why it is so important that we look after it?
I do love the old wood as it is such an important part of our history and it is so important to maintain this unique woodland to the best of our ability. There are not many places like this. The thing I find is that a lot people don’t realise how special it actually is. One ancient oak has more bio-diversity than a thousand 100 year old oaks. Our park has over 2000 ancient oaks and some of these are nearly a 1000 years old. As is true with all living things nothing can live for ever so it is our duty to help these trees last as long as possible while encouraging new life into the wood.
What are the biggest threats to the old oak wood?
One of our biggest problems in the wood at the moment is invasive species, mainly holly, growing around the oaks and blocking them from the sunlight. The amount of holly within the wood makes resolving the problem a massive undertaking. The other big threat to these trees is the amount of footfall that goes through the woods. This causes compaction around the roots. The problem with compaction is you don’t see the effects for about five to ten years but once you see the effects appearing in the trees there is little that we can do – the damage is already done. We have to try to stay ahead of compaction before it becomes a problem. This means sometimes we have to close the old wood to the public and I would like them to understand why. It’s not that we are being awkward and want to keep it for ourselves. It’s that we are trying to get out in front of unseen problems so that we can have people experience its wonders in the future and for hundreds of years to come.
Watch our video of the Old Oak Wood in all its glory:
Are you enjoying your work at Dalkeith Country Park?
Working in a place like DCP is great as it brings a lot of new challenges, but gives a lot of job satisfaction as you can actually see people appreciating your work. Just seeing people in the park and enjoying themselves shows us that we are doing a good job. Even at this difficult time, people are still able to come into the park for their one form of exercise a day and with the quarantine, probably enjoying the park even more.
On that note, what are the challenges to the park during this time of Covid-19 lockdown?
From fly-tipping to fires, there is always going to be that element to watch for but if we are vigilant we can prevent a lot of these things from happening. Working when a pandemic is on obviously heightens the health and safety needed to work safely but being from a very health and safety oriented industry it doesn’t take too much effort to adapt. It’s easy to always look at the bad when there is so much bad news in the world at the moment. I always try to find the positives and focus on them. With having the minimal amount of people and vehicles in the park at the moment, the park is now starting to flourish, the woodlands are starting to repair themselves, the animals are growing bolder and starting to spread throughout the park and hopefully they will grow in numbers. All this is great for the park.
HOW YOU CAN HELP US HELP OUR OLD OAK WOOD
STAY OUT FOR NOW – we want you to enjoy our beautiful old oaks but we need to give this wood a little time to heal
NO FIRES – these oaks are so precious a fire in this area (or any area of the park) would devastate our trees, some of which are over 800 years old
NO FLY-TIPPING – please be considerate here and in all other areas of the park