Meet the Team – Nina Williams

Meet Nina, who has headed up the Forestry team since January 2020

How would you describe the work undertaken by the forestry team, and what is your favourite aspect of the job?

In a nutshell, the sustainable management of the wooded landscape on the Cowdray Estate. It is a balance between commercial timber production, conservation, and public and private recreation. By far the best aspect of the job is getting out in the woods and seeing the seasons change.

Is it unusual to be a woman in the forestry profession and what drew you to follow a career in forestry?

There are not that many women in forestry, but there is nothing about the profession that is gender restrictive in anyway – from driving ground machinery, wielding chainsaws to being a forest manager.

Prior to working in forestry, I was in the military. I was allocated a job in Scotland to find engineering tasks for soldiers to train on and during this time I met lairds, gamekeepers, and foresters. I was very interested in what they did, and it gave me an appetite for a second career. I left the Army and did a master’s degree in Rural Estate Management and Forestry from the Royal Agricultural College before joining the South Downs National Park as a Woodland Officer.

What is your team like? And how many of them have a long-standing connection with Cowdray?

The team are brilliant. They have so much experience of working on the Cowdray Estate and it has been a real pleasure working with them as they love what they do and take great pride in the landscape. Both Clive Quinnell and Rupert Hill have worked on the estate for their entire career, and many other members of the team have an impressive record of service to Cowdray. We all come together well as a team.

Nina with foresters (from left to right) Gil Bates, Kris Gillespie & Paul Prudente

What is your vision for forestry at Cowdray?

My vision is to carry on the excellent work of my predecessors and to continue to manage the Estate’s woodlands productively while ensuring that the wildlife’s habitat is protected.

Do you find that sometimes people misconstrue the role of foresters at Cowdray and, if so, what would you like people to know?

People get distressed when we cut down trees. However, it’s important to realise that trees are a crop like a farmer’s wheat, but this crop takes 80 to 100 years to grow. We replant everything we harvest and pay the utmost respect for the environment and the wildlife we share these woods with. The wood all goes into production of timber or fencing right through to processing wood from our own sawmill. The wood is generally used locally, and out of respect for the tree, none of it is wasted.

How important is conservation in your role?

Conservation is one of the three strands of sustainable forestry, the other two are commercial productivity and ensuring that the woods can be used for public and private recreation. Some woodlands are managed more for conservation, for example, Ambersham Common. Other areas might be more commercially orientated, but we look at installing buffer zones and wildlife refuge areas to maintain that balance.

And have you come across any rare species on the Estate?

We have a range of rare species on the Estate which reflects the diverse range of habitats. On the heath we have specific species such as the rare smooth snake, sand lizard, Dartford warbler and the Nightjar. We also manage specific habitat improvements for other species such as the Pearl Bordered Fritillary butterfly and the Honey Buzzard alongside other organisations such as the South Downs National Park, the Sussex Wildlife Trust, and the British Trust for Ornithology.

What is your favourite type of tree?

That is a hard question to answer – I would say veteran oak trees and the equally magnificent Douglas fir.

And where is your favourite place on the Estate?

I feel that I am still getting to know the Estate, but if I had to choose, I would say Verdley Forest. I enjoy walking around there and then having a drink at the Duke of Cumberland.

Since starting at Cowdray, do you have a particularly memorable moment?

I started in January and soon after Storm Ciara hit, swiftly followed by Storm Dennis. I was certainly thrown in at the deep end, and spent a lot of time clearing up trees.

Do you have a favourite walk on the Estate?

I love walking on Ambersham Common, especially at this time of year with my Hungarian Vizsla called Ruby.

How do you like to spend your weekend?

With just over 3,000 hectares of woodland to manage, I have spent a lot of my weekends learning about the Estate. I also enjoy a walk in the countryside followed by a pub lunch and sitting beside a log fire.

Do you enjoy cooking and, if so, do you have a favourite meal?

I love cooking Italian food and am particularly fond of wild mushrooms, which I pick from the Estate, and venison.

Would you choose to holiday by the sea or in the mountains?

Mountains in winter, and in the summer, I like to go to the beach.

Do you have a particularly special place that you like to go to for a holiday?

I never go to the same place twice and I really like to travel. I like Italy, Sicily, and Sardinia. One day, I would like to go back to Belize and do some scuba diving again.

Finally, what can’t you live without?

I feel that I am still getting to know the Estate, but if I had to choose, I would say Verdley Forest. I enjoy walking around there and then having a drink at the Duke of Cumberland.

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