Kicking off our series of meet the Arbortec brand ambassador blogs, we introduce Cheryl Duerden. Cheryl brings a wealth of experience with her to Arbortec and has been an ambassador since March, 2021. We wanted to find out more about her career, her interests.
Can you tell us about your experience from being a graduate in media and mass communication to becoming a successful arborist? Did you face any challenges along the way?
I have had quite the journey, starting my career in my early twenties, travelling as a writer and photojournalist. My work took me to a lot of different places from rivers in Borneo to the plateaus in the Himalayas. I was writing for an environmental magazine and by chance, took on an assignment to follow a group of specialist biologists and students through rainforests, mangroves and coral reefs in Malaysia, to document the educational and conservation work that they were doing. I was hooked onto conservation from then on, started working for the very company that I wrote about, while still utilising my photography and writing skills. Trekking through the rainforests of Southeast Asia, wading through mangroves and snorkelling over coral reefs inspired me to transition my career into the dive industry, where I qualified as a PADI IDC staff instructor (scuba diving), learning and sharing my knowledge with others about marine conservation while managing dive resorts in some really amazing places.
Moving to the UK many years later, I joined the National Trust in West Coast Exmoor and based in the beautiful Heddon Valley, I continued my conservation journey, sharing my passion for Nature with others through communication, ranger work, wildlife surveys and guided walks. In late 2018 I started specialising in trees and volunteering on tree surveys, private woodland management work and in the process gaining my chainsaw qualifications.
My time in volunteering paid off as I learned much about the industry and gained priceless skillsets from various mentors, getting work doing forestry surveys, ancient and veteran tree surveys, woodland assessment, creation and consultation. Wanting to also gain experience in arboriculture, I contacted some local arb companies and a couple of them were keen to have me on board and in the process giving me a great insight to gaining my tree climbing and aerial rescue qualifications in November 2021.
What skills did you gain from working with one of the largest conservation organisations in Europe and what was your best experience from working here?
Working for the National Trust in 2018-19 was a huge stepping stone for me. I found my love for conservation again and this was what led me to meeting my first tree mentor, who really opened my eyes to the amazing tree work that I could see myself doing as a career.
Before I decided to specialise in trees, I was learning to do lots of field surveys, data collection and practical conservation tasks with birds, bumblebees, butterflies, harvest mice, trees, wildflower habitats, etc. By throwing myself into every available aspect of wildlife conservation work and consistently doing courses provided by the NT, I expanded my knowledge base and gained invaluable experiences and skills.
In addition to being supported by a few extremely knowledgeable and selfless individuals in the ranger team, my best experience had to be tagging along to help on ancient and veteran tree surveys of the estate, learning from one of the best mentors ever; this vital moment crucial in helping me shape my passion and career progression with trees.
What is your favourite tree and why (you have mentioned ancient and veteran trees previously)?
I love an oak, in particular the English Oak (Quercus robur). The oak supports more than 2300 different species of wildlife and due to its long lifespan and ability to veteranise in the most amazing ways, their features provide irreplaceable habitat for so much biodiversity and wildlife.
How was your experience of entering a male dominated UK arboriculture industry? Is there anything you would change about your career path now?
I haven’t really had any issues entering this male-dominated UK arb industry, and although I may not be the tallest or strongest, I do believe my work ethic, resourcefulness and determination gets me through. I have had lots of support and encouragement from clients and peers who are really excited about one more female in the industry! As I keep my choice of work pretty varied, I’m excited to be learning something new every day and having the opportunity to evolve constantly in order to work in a better and more efficient way.
Do you have a favourite item of clothing/footwear from Arbortec Forestwear and if so, why is it your favourite?
I love my Breatheflex chainsaw jackets as they keep me relatively dry and warm on a cold and wet winter’s day! I use the Breatheflex Performance Work Jacket in Lime for arb work and my Caiman Breathedry Softshell Grey Jacket for forestry and woodland survey work.
What would be your best piece of advice to someone new wanting to enter the world of forestry and arboriculture?
Someone once said to me, “It’s how much you want it.” I think it’s important to be proactive, put yourself out there and try a wide range of experiences – be it tree climbing, research, surveying, supervised chainsaw use, etc. – then decide which path is most suitable for you. Most importantly, be passionate about your choices and never give up.