The National Memorial Arboretum at Alrewas in Staffordshire was the brainchild of Commander David Childs CBE, who wished to see established a national focus for remembrance. An appeal was launched in 1994 by the then Prime Minister, John Major. Assisted also by Millennium Commission funding, the Arboretum was officially opened to the public in May 2001.
Ten years on, the site now hosts an abundance of wild plants, woodland areas, grassland, a reed bed and wetland.
As planting began in 1997, it seemed most appropriate that the site should also celebrate the turn of the century. The Millennium Chapel of Peace and Forgiveness is a central part of the site and was created in such a way as to offer a place of tranquillity and reflection to people of every faith or none.
The project began with no money, no land, no staff and, important for an arboretum, no trees. The National Lottery Millennium Commission, granted some forty percent of the funds needed, and this was matched by thousands of donations, both large and small, from a wide variety of organisations, both military and civilian, men and women, corporate and voluntary.
The land was kindly leased for a peppercorn rent by Redland Aggregates (now Lafarge) who have generously supported the idea from the beginning.
The initial planting took place thanks to grants from the Forestry Commission and the National Forest.
It consists of 150 acres of wooded parkland within the National Forest in Staffordshire, where visitors can both enjoy and learn about the trees and their surroundings, and reflect upon their special symbolism.
Over 50,000 trees have been planted on the site, along with the erection of over 200 memorials, of which 80% are military and represent many of the armed forces regiments. The focus, therefore, is not totally military. There is a large area devoted to Police who have fallen while on duty, as well as other areas given over to the Fire & Rescue and Ambulance services. National charities that represent those who have died in particular circumstances, including children, and people killed in road incidents, are also to be found in the Arboretum grounds.
There are many memorials to see. One of the most haunting is 'Shot at Dawn'; the First World War memorial to those who were shot for cowardice - an extremely thought provoking monument to those who died in the throes of war.
During my visit, I met up with Barry Jones, the site's Grounds Maintenance Manager, who has been involved with the project since day one.
Barry is, essentially, a Landscape Contractor who began working on the site way back in 1983, undertaking tree planting work for Redland. As with any quarry, the operators are required to replant and landscape spent areas of land.
In 1999, Barry was officially invited to tender for the ongoing maintenance of the Arboretum in terms of helping plant trees, general maintenance of the grass lawn areas, paths and memorial gardens on the 150 acre site.
Over the years, Barry has built up his gardening team to cover the amount of work required. The workload is split between three parties. Barry and his team of five generally undertake all the shrub bed maintenance and mowing of the ornamental lawns, another contractor is brought in to mow the larger, formal grass areas, whilst the National Memorial Arboretum has a team of volunteers who help work on some of the plantations and memorial gardens.
Barry keeps the grass mown using ride-on Kubota rotary mowers, mowing most of the lawn areas on a weekly basis. Some of the larger plantation areas are mown on a ten day cycle. Grass mowing heights vary from 13mm on the formal lawn, to 30mm for more general grass areas.
During the summer months, Barry says it is very much like the old Forth Bridge mentality; as you complete one cycle of cut, it is then time to start all over again.
One of the most popular parts of the Arboretum is the Poppy Field, which is in full flower between the months of June and August. Once the flowers have died back, Barry and his team cut and collect the old crop and, in the following March, rotavate and reseed the field, to start the whole process again.
Another big job is the twice annual treatment of weeds around the bases of trees. Glyphosate and spot treatments are used as required; a time consuming job considering there are so many trees to keep weed free.
Barry reports to Paul Kennedy, the Arboretum's curator. They have regular meetings to keep up to speed with all the activities planned for the site, including ongoing construction work of new memorials, which can often impede some maintenance regimes.
Any pruning from tree works undertaken on site is recycled and used to mulch shrub beds and top up informal pathways.
Barry loves his job, especially as he can see the fruits of his labour; many of the trees he planted all those years ago are now maturing into essential features of the Arboretum.
Barry currently has no plans to retire, and hopes he can continue to enjoy the work and friendships he has built up since he began working there over twenty five years ago.