Martin is proud to be a “Tree hugger”
04 June 2012
Some people might think it offensive, but when his friends call him a "tree hugger" Martin Lees just smiles. To the 28 year-old from Newarthill in North Lanarkshire, the banter is simply their recognition that after drifting through school and years doing what he now knows was the wrong job, he is proud that he has finally found direction in his life.
Martin is just about to complete a National Certificate course in Countryside Management at Oatridge as the first step to a career looking after and protecting the beautiful parts of Scotland.
Since he was a child, Martin has loved being outdoors whenever possible. That developed into hobbies like fishing, hill-walking and photographing wildlife and wild places. Now that love is fuelling his ambitions to continue his studies to degree level and eventually, he hopes, to find a job with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency.
"At school I had no idea what I was going to do with myself," says Martin, but fate took a hand when he was 17 and in the middle of fifth year: The best friend of
his father offered him a job selling, installing and maintaining hot tubs, Jacuzzis and swimming pools. That took him to Britain's second biggest city, Birmingham. "Eventually I realised that after eight years, I'd had enough and that I just didn't want to spend the rest of my life in the 24/7 hustle and bustle," he says.
After talking it over with his boss, Martin returned to Scotland and began the search for a college where he could get the qualifications to make a career change. "I was really impressed by what Oatridge had to offer, so I signed up for the National Certificate in Countryside Management. At that point I thought I would end up
as a countryside ranger, but the course turned out to be brilliant and it really opened my eyes to how much more is involved."
Martin now plans to continue his college studies to Higher National Certificate and then Diploma level, hopefully progressing further to get a degree. "Fingers crossed, I would love to do ecology and then perhaps find a job doing bio-diversity surveying. That's something I'm very interested in."
During the year-long course at Oatridge, Martin has done regular voluntary work at Strathclyde Country Park every week-end and spent two weeks there on work experience as part of his studies. "I really got a lot out of that," he says. "They had just started a pilot project working with people with social inclusion problems, recovering drug addicts and others with health issues. They spend a day a week in the woods and are taught forest skills. For some of them just leaving their homes to go to the shops is a big deal, but it's been amazing to watch the improvement in some of these guys."
Giving up a full-time job to return to study has not been easy for Martin and his long-term girlfriend, Lisa: "She isn't too keen on this outdoor stuff, but she has really supported me and encouraged me to come to college. She did all of that when she was younger.
"Money is a bit of a problem. We were used to having some, but I'm a student now and I've had to accept a big reduction in income. That means we've had to change our habits. I've cut back on fishing a bit, we don't party as much as we used to and we won't be going a holiday this year because we can't afford it.
"I was nervous about returning to education, because I thought I would be much older than the rest of the students, but there are a couple of guys in the class who are older than me and in fact, there are a lot of different ages and people from all sorts of backgrounds.
"I'm actually glad I waited until now to do this, because I am getting so much more from it than I would have when I was younger. I do get kidded by my friends and called a tree hugger, but I just take it as it comes. It's all a bit of fun," he laughs.