Aug 27 2021

In the Spotlight – An interview with volunteer manager, Nick Swinburn

It’s all about the trees… and so much more: staff and volunteers share their nature joys

Today we would like to introduce you to volunteer manager and Site Manager for Durham & Tees, Nick Swinburn


Nick is one of the Trust’s eight Site Managers across North England whose generic work role is to look after between 40 – 60 different sites, often with very different types of management required, depending on the age, size and nature of the woods in their areas.

Nick has 30 sites, most of which are younger, and therefore in the process of becoming established woodlands. Several of them form part of the Trust’s wider Woodland Creation Programme, and, in the former mining areas which make up much of Nick’s territory, there are plenty of woodland creation projects going on.

I asked Nick about his background and what had drawn him to working for the Trust. He told me his dad was a farmer and he had always lived on farms as a child, within the area of the Great North Forest, and was brought up around issues for land management, without it impacting much upon him at the time. He didn’t think he would work in that arena, choosing to study Sports Science at university, but gradually began to seek out work which he felt would bring him longer term satisfaction. He began his career with the Forestry Commission, moving to the Trust in 2018???.

As with all the lovely people I’m getting to interview, I started off the Nature Favourites section by asking Nick the question that’s been making everyone ponder: what’s your favourite tree? Some have interpreted this as meaning one particular tree, whereas others have gone for a species: either or both are interesting to hear about.

For Nick, it’s the silver birch. I asked him why.

“I love its light canopy… some woodlands – especially coniferous – can feel dark and oppressive but silver birches are airy and light… you can see plenty of space above the canopy.” I loved the image that created but commented how some environmentalists can dismiss silver birch as ‘weeds’, with little value to other species, but Nick soon put me right.

They do have conservation value: they are a pioneer species which can grow on poor soils and subsequently improve soil composition,” he said.

Nick went on to talk about his other nature favourites: a love for montane landscapes and how he’s always fantasised about living in the Alps. He said his favourite animal is the bear, and that he’d had his most memorable experience in nature in the Romanian mountains: not actually seeing bears, only their tracks, but even just knowing bears were present made him feel vulnerable. 

“At the top of the food chain and living in the UK, we don’t often feel that, and for me it’s an aligning with the natural world”, he explained.

I loved that concept, although had to own it didn’t quite fit for me: not even keen on walking through a field of cows!

We talked more about feeling vulnerable from hearing about the extreme weather events that are happening all too often; and how directly experiencing even a torrential rain storm or thunder and lightening can bring that feeling of vulnerability, and, for Nick again that sense of aligning with the natural world.

But it was time to come back to the day job: Nick had a meeting about a possible new woodland creation project  and I had another interview.

Daphne Pleace – Volunteer Whittle Reporter

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