Here at Gone West, we believe that our planters are the most important members of our team. Without them, we would never have achieved the things we have. So, we want to give them a voice.
We recently interviewed Nicky, our planter from Glasgow, who recently broke the Icelandic planting record alongside his friend, Josh. Together, they managed to plant 7865 trees in one day! Nicky is actually helping represent Gone West at COP26, meeting everyone and telling incredible stories from being out in the field.
Why did you become a tree planter? Was money the first motivation?
It wasn't so much money. I was backpacking out in Canada, and as usual, I was a broke backpacker. A friend of a friend mentioned tree planting to me. The difference [in tree planting] in Canada is that you’re at a camp with a camp cook, a chef, so basically you’re camping in the middle of the wilderness and you’re getting fed. So right away, as a backpacker, if you’re getting accommodation and you’re getting fed at a job, that’s perfect. The money is just a bonus.
You stuck with [tree planting] after Canada right? Why did you keep working as a tree planter?
I remember on my first day as soon as the tree went in, I couldn’t really believe what I was doing and that I was getting paid for it. I just loved it. I loved being in the wilderness and being away from society. Just a little reset for the mind. I still love it to this day! Every day I go out planting is just like my first day again. I’ve never been so passionate about a job before.
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
Sometimes, when you’re camping onsite on an evening and you’ve had a hard, wet day, and you’re in your tent and you wake up in the morning and you can hear the rain on your tent again. You’re looking at your wet clothes, you’ve gotta put your wet clothes back on and do the same thing again. It’s tough, there’s tough days. But the tough days make the good days even better. I always tell myself that. For me, the thought of planting is always a lot worse than actually planting. Once you’re out there, you just get back into your rhythm and crack on.
How many seasons have you been planting with Gone West?
I’ve done a season out in Scotland and a season in Iceland, so this will be my third season. But in total, this is season number 5.
How many more do you think you’ll do?
I guess until my body gives up, I’ll keep going! This season I’m foremanning - so, leading a group - so I’ll see how different it is from just planting, and maybe go down that route of moving up a bit in planting. But, I really can’t see myself doing anything else anytime soon.
If you weren’t a tree planter, what job would you like to do?
Well, in the off season I’m travelling the world, it’s been a little more difficult since COVID. I’m actually a yoga teacher as well in the off season. I practice yoga myself and I teach a lot of yoga. To be honest, in the off season you’re just resting because you’ve been working so hard.
You’ve travelled all over the world. Do you feel hopeful for the future? Do you think tree planting can make a difference and help the world?
Definitely, I think it’s really important. It’s such a little thing that makes a huge difference. That’s what people don’t realise. We can change. All we have to do is plant trees and it’s so easy! I don’t want to say I’ve given up hope, I think the whole point is that you need to be the change you want to see. Try not to be angry or sad about the way the world is, as long as you’re doing your best, you can take comfort in that.
What do you think we need to change the most as a society in our everyday lives?
Switching to a vegetarian and vegan diet is one of the biggest things. Not everyone can go out from their daily jobs and go and plant trees - it’s unrealistic. But cutting out the consumption of meat and dairy is something everyone can do. I don’t see why everyone can’t do that.
You’re from Scotland. You’re going to be at COP26 from [5th November] onwards. So, how do you feel about this event? Do you think it’s going to make a difference?
For me, in terms of what the leaders of the world are saying… you have to take it with a pinch of salt. I think the important thing is to get the people involved and forget about what the politicians are saying. That’s what we’re going to try when we’re down there. Almost promote what we’re doing and make people aware of it and how easy it is and show them how they can make a difference - forget about what the world leaders are saying. Just come along and get involved. Change starts from home. It starts from the people, not the politicians.
Interested in what Gone West is doing at COP26? Read our latest blog post where we talk about what we’re doing, who’s going to be there, and what we hope to gain.
What was your biggest challenge in your planting career?
Your biggest challenge is yourself. I think you’re more capable than what you think you are. You know, every day while you’re planting there’s a little voice in your head saying ‘oh you’re too tired, let’s go home. It’s nice and comfortable back home. It’s nice and warm, it’s nice and dry. Let’s go home.’ The whole day you’ve got to blank that voice out and keep going. It’s definitely a mental game. It’s definitely more of a mental game than a physical one, the job. A good example is a girl, Bee, that I’ve planted with. Almost everyone doubted her at the start. She’s just a small woman from London, no one really expected her to achieve what she achieved, and that put a chip on her shoulder. She’s so driven and so determined, I’ve never met anyone like her. Now she holds the Scottish record for trees planted in a day. So that’s a prime example of how it works in tree planting, it’s a mental battle. She’s a savage planter!
If you could sum up being a tree planter in just one sentence, what would that be?
What was your favourite tree planting memory?
I had a bit of an encounter with a black bear in Canada. You see bears quite often, but you’re usually in a truck. There was one site in particular that we were travelling where it was road access and to get into the land there was a steep drop in the road. I was planting and I started to hear bear bangers go off. It’s basically fireworks, loud fireworks that scare the bear away, so I never thought any more about it. I finished planting and I picked my bag up and started to walk up the steep hill up the road where the trees were. Just as my head popped up over the road, there was another girl, Joules, who I was planting with, and she ran straight across, from right to left. I never thought more of it. I just wondered ‘where is she going?’ and she jumped into the truck. I’m standing in the middle of the road and I turn around and - I want to say about six or seven metres away from me - there’s a big black bear in the middle of the road and it’s staring at me and I'm staring at the bear. There’s a moment in my mind - I just consider myself a guy from East Kilbride (a small town in the south of Glasgow) - and here I am, in the middle of the Canadian wilderness and I’m staring at a bear and the bear is staring at me. Honestly, it felt like a lifetime. It might have only been a couple of seconds. But eventually, the bear turned around and walked in the other direction, but I just thought ‘wow, this is a crazy, crazy moment’.
Where do you think you’d be in your life if you hadn’t gone down the tree planting route?
That’s a difficult question. When I left school, I had done an apprenticeship in welding. So, through my travels, I picked up jobs in construction. If I hadn’t been planting, I’d probably be working some construction job somewhere that I didn’t particularly like honestly.
Have your life goals or values changed since becoming a tree planter?
I think in all honesty I was a little bit lost before I started planting. Planting gave me a direction in my life. I’ve definitely known a lot of people that have come straight out of university and not really knowing what to do. I think coming out planting gives you that reset and direction. The people who have come out of university have come out from planting with a totally different idea of what they want to do. It definitely gives you that direction. I feel a lot more settled in myself, I know that this is the direction I want to be going. I want to be making a difference and I want to be planting trees - I couldn’t think of anything better to do!
What do you think the world will look like in 10 years? What would you like to see?
I’d like to see people waking up and stop listening to the media, news, and the government. Taking matters into their own hands and making a change. It’s hard to say what the world will be like in ten years. I hope to see a change, to see people's attitudes changing. I feel like there's a shift just now. I’m confident the world will be a better place in ten years time.
Do you ever revisit the sites you’ve planted at? How does it make you feel?
A lot of the time, you do jobs that are like restock jobs. You go back to the sites that you’ve planted at and fill in some gaps in case trees have died. I think when you’re in the rhythm of planting trees, you forget you’re planting living organisms - things that live and breathe and grow - you forget about that. So, when you go back to the site you’ve previously planted at, you forget and you’re amazed, like these are living trees that I’m planting and I can see that they’ve grown so much. This is going to be a forest. It’s amazing to see that.