March 28, 2019, by lzzeb

Capers in the woods: Reflections on a fun PhD

A blog by Vivyan Lisewski-Hobson

Having just submitted my PhD I thought it was a good time to reflect on my experiences after over 4 years at Nottingham.  When I started my integrated Masters my kids were just 2 and 4 years old, a lot of people thought I was mad.  I think I agree with them but looking back I’ve had the time of my life.  Previously in my career I’d worked in several jobs and the PhD was a huge contrast.  It granted me so much freedom, a freedom to pursue my own interests, almost uninterrupted.  Like most people I spent much of my first year feeling a little confused, under-confident and unsure of what direction I should take the study.  However, I did find a way and that, for me, was instigated by getting out into the field as soon as possible.

I wanted to study issues relating to recreationalists and landowners in woodland but with so little literature on the subject of what happens in ordinary woods I needed to select a sample and start making some observations.  Working that way allowed the issues to come to me and the direction of the study became obvious.  People in the woods were willing to talk, they wanted to talk.  I asked 105 people in the woods to talk to me, only three turned me down.

A new keep out sign

The landowners had plenty to say too and there were some real commonalities between what both public groups and landowners valued in their woodland experience.  Most were seeking peace, calm and quiet, therefore when sources of incongruous noise appeared (usually motorcyclists) were united in their hostility.  However, this raised questions of who the woods should be for.  Many landowners were private individuals, often new to land ownership, these people usually wanted to preserve their own private idyll almost as if it was an extension of their gardens.  This led to attempts to keep the public out, attempts that were resisted.  In England, the public are officially limited to public footpaths and bridleways, however 40% of the 1000+ people observed were roaming freely, technically trespassing.  There were a myriad of other issues, but I’ll save that for the papers I’m planning to write.

The field work was exciting, the analysis was fascinating.  However, beware of the write up year guys, try not to isolate yourselves too much, it can be tough on the mental health.  I  can’t wait to find a way to get back into the field and if people were allowed to keep doing PhDs for the rest of their lives, I’d be first in the queue!

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