A craftswoman is only as good as her tools.

In the life of any outdoor worker, the BEST feeling is a sharp implement…cue dirty minds and innuendos. But in all seriousness, it can drive you over the edge picking up a saw that doesn’t saw or loppers that require a twist and flick technique; so here I explain the process of equipment maintenance and the euphoric feeling of freshly sharpened tools! The most impressive practitioners in my mind have two fundamental workshop rules:  1) keep it tidy and 2) keep it fresh, and whether it be the humble billhook or strapping chainsaw, all tools should be looked after. When using a hand tool such as an axe or brash clearer you should have a clean, straight, sharp edge to keep the work easy and efficient. The best way to retain or restore this is to regularly clean the blade and prevent dirt and rust from eroding it.

So first thing’s first, checking the tool and identifying what needs to be done to get it back in shape. Although blade anatomy varies and bevels can change between tools, the edge should be straight and notch free. If blunt, you can run your thumb along the flat of the blade and mentally note where the metal needs to be filed, or if not confident just carefully inspect it by eye. Personally I like to feel where the edge needs working as its more accurate and feels more rewarding when finished sharpening.

Next step is to get your sharpening equipment to hand and secure the tool. Sometimes its best to secure the blade in a vice (e.g. brushcutter blades) but for others you can achieve a nicer edge by holding the handle, looking down the blade, and closing one eye so that you can see where the bevel lies…plus its a bit more comfortable. As for sharpening implements, there are a variety on the market and some are made for specific tools but for the majority a file or sharpening stone will do.

To sharpen the blade, first grind the edge to get rid of notches and dirt. Then use the grinding stone (or whichever implement you choose) to form the bevel by kneading it in one direction towards the edge. If you have honing oil to hand, applied to the stone it can help to remove dirt, reduce heat and prevent excess wear; however it is not essential to use. I usually start on the side easiest to judge by eye (right) then move onto the other side until they match the original bevel pattern. Once done with the stone, you can use a smoother implement (some stones/files have a rough side and smooth side) to remove shards and finish the edge.

Once finished, I like to run my thumb up the bevel at random points of the blade to check they are of even sharpness and angle. You should NEVER RUN YOUR FINGER ALONG THE EDGE; if you’ve done the job properly, this blade will be able to slice through much harder materials than your digits! Finally, just to ensure the blade gets a good service, you can give it a quick spray with WD-40 or other clean oil to keep it from rusting and lubricate the metal. Plus it makes it nice and shiny, adding to your job satisfaction. Most tools either have closed blades when stored or come with a shield but if you lose this you can use a soft cloth to protect it – I use a sock for billhooks as they’re the perfect shape!

You may think this is quite a laborious task and to be honest, we mostly leave it for a rainy day as an excuse to get out of office admin and avoid replying to emails. But when in the zone and sharpening a whole workshop’s supplies, this process can become quite therapeutic and the rewards are endless. Everyone has their own way but if you look after your tools, they’ll look after you!

Commitment to Conservation.

I’ve always had an affinity for the wilderness, my father previously working for Greenpeace and my mother coming from a long line of fell walkers; it is in my blood. And after a childhood filled with regular day trips to the Lake District, holidays around the beautiful British countryside and being sent out to play until teatime, I feel like my parents always nurtured that love for the outdoors without ever pushing me to start working in it.

People might describe me as the kid who forever had muddy hands, bruised knees and random vegetation stuck in her hair (nothing’s changed there!). Of course I went through the obligatory pubescent phase, goth being my personal favourite fad, but I always gravitated back to nature and reveled in its freedom. I was a happy child and I definitely pin part of that on the fact that I could always find joy from the simplest things mother nature had to offer.

As I grew older and started facing decisions that would shape my life and career, I decided to choose what I was good at – science and maths – and gained an appreciation for meteorology and oceanography. I liked the way that unchangeable, sturdy laws and equations could translate into changeable, erratic events; it was exciting and unpredictable. However after spending the first two weeks of university (UEA) unraveling simultaneous equations and coming to realise that people only chase storms in their spare time without being paid for it, my mind wandered to greener fields and landed in a bog in Norfolk – my first ecology field trip. Yes, I changed courses after watching those lucky students foraging for fungi in the woodland and bird ringing by the lake, and never looked back. I studied a variety of modules, from environmental politics and sustainability to parasitology and taxonomy. As the years rolled by, I found myself volunteering with the Wildlife Trust to see if I could apply what I’d learnt in community ecology lectures to the real world. I loved doing a hard day’s work come rain or shine and really admired the wardens for their innovation and sheer grit. Before learning about this avenue of conservation my heart was set on becoming a research scientist and publishing my findings to help environmental efforts, but with every new skill learnt in the field my aspirations pointed more and more towards practice than academia.

After graduating university I decided that the folks I’d volunteered with were who I wanted to become; through networking and asking lots of “how did you get your job?” questions, I’d applied for an internship and arrived at Eastern England RSPB. It was an incredible year of new adventures, new skills, new friendships and a new outlook on my career. I spent 6 months over summer at Minsmere, Dingle Marshes and North Warren (Suffolk coast) and come September moved to Frampton Marsh and Freiston Shore (The Wash, Lincolnshire) for what I thought would be another 6 months. Whilst the position was unpaid, I received payment of sorts through vocational training in brushcutters, pesticides, ATVs and 4×4 driving, and was provided with accommodation with like minded people I will keep as dear friends forever. Tasks I helped with included volunteer leadership, livestock husbandry, equipment and vehicle maintenance, surveys of all kinds and general handyman jobs. Whilst I would recommend the internship to anyone wanting to pursue a career in conservation, I would also warn that you have to be financially prepared or, as I did, work evenings to pay for living costs. It wasn’t an easy ride and I am still paying off the debt it accumulated but unfortunately it is the easiest and quickest way to get on the ladder! I hope in the future this changes and that the exploitation of passionate, young naturalists becomes a faux pas; I now endeavor to help those following in my footsteps and give as much advice as possible.

We’re pretty much up to speed now. After 3 months in Lincolnshire applying for countless jobs in the sector I was finally rewarded with an exciting offer of assistant ranger in the South Downs National Park. It was a role I applied for thinking an NP would want someone more experienced and seasoned than I, but my friendliness, versatility and strong work ethic earned me the role and boy was I chuffed! I moved to the South East early 2017, renting a room from a lovely local who was more than happy to show me the area and settle me in, and started work the day after…strike while the irons hot eh? So now I am settled in my job, still learning a lot, but ready to share my experiences and findings with some knowledge behind the subject. Hopefully this has been useful in explaining how I got to where I am and a bit of backstory to my passion for the wilderness. I like to stress that everyone in this sector got to where they are in very different ways and through series of lucky breaks/useful contacts and perfectly timed opportunities, but there’s one thing we all have in common – determination and commitment to conservation.