To celebrate International Women's Day, we take a look at the history of women in forestry and speak to members of staff who are forging new and exciting career paths in the industry.
Although traditionally considered to be ‘man’s work’, women have played an important part in British forestry for many years.
In 1942 the Woman’s Timber Corps (part of the Women’s Land Army) was formed in response to a shortage of forestry workers during the Second World War. Known as the Lumber Jills, nearly 5,000 women carried out a wide range of forestry tasks including felling, loading, driving tractors and operating sawmills, often pushing through long 12-hour days of hard labour.
During this time, the number of women working in British forestry rose by roughly a third, however by 1951, we were back down to our pre-war level.
Cut to 2020 and things are looking a little different at Forestry England. 40% of our workforce is now female and the recent launch of our Women in Forestry Program Board is looking to impact positive changes for all our staff in the coming years.
"I started as an Apprentice Forest Craftsperson at Cannock Chase in 2013, the first time there had been a woman in the forestry team there. I remember they had to have a female toilet installed because I was starting. I later progressed to Forest Works Supervisor on the community woodlands in the North West (based from Delamere) where I stayed for 1 year before returning to Cannock as Forest Work Supervisor for three years.
Since then I have progressed to Forester and am now back on the community woodlands again. My role at Cannock was filled with another woman which I was very happy about!
I’ve also been lucky enough to receive financial support from FE to study for a master’s in forestry management which I will complete this September.
I am passionate about encouraging more women into the industry and I think it’s important that we approach women of all ages and backgrounds to encourage them into all levels of the business."
Kay Clark, Community Forester
"I’ve always had a real love for the outdoors, I grew up in the countryside and spent a lot of my weekends camping in the mountains. However, I never set out to have a career in forestry, I did a Maths degree and spent the first 10 years of my working life on various projects in the IT industry. The work was interesting but the locations were invariably rather uninspiring. I took a career break when I had my children and once my son reached school age I snapped up the opportunity of managing the plant records at Westonbirt.
There is no average day; today I am sorting through 300 new plant labels that are waiting to be placed on our trees. We have 15,000 specimen trees here and I have a team of 8 volunteers who check which labels are missing and then fix them once the new labels arrive. Yesterday I was focussed on the 150 new trees that the team are currently planting and was making sure we had accurate records of exactly what had been planted where. It always feels like a privilege to go and look at a new specimen and spend time in our beautiful collection.
One of my biggest achievements here was moving us to a new plant records system. Our tree team are now able to record all their work on tablets, and the general public can locate our trees using a mobile phone. Why not take a look at www.westonbirt.arboretumexplorer.org"
Alison Vry, Database & Records Officer
"My love of the natural environment started early, being dragged around the countryside on camping trips by my father who also had a passion for wildlife. I never considered working in any other area and studied a degree in Zoology followed by a Masters in Conservation Biology, I then worked for a number of conservation NGOs before landing the job as Biodiversity Officer with the Forestry Commission back in 2002.
Now as Environment and Planning Manager in West England I spend my days working to make sure timber production is effectively captured within forest plans to create more diverse, wildlife-rich landscapes over the longer term. I work with a great team of people and together we are making a difference, bringing back native species such as beavers and pine martens and improving habitats for species that are really struggling in the wider landscape.
There are huge opportunities across the nation's forests for wildlife and now is a great time to begin a career in the environment sector. Getting into it is not always easy so my advice would be to firstly get as much experience as you possibly can by joining local experts on wildlife monitoring schemes or shadowing work colleagues as on-the-ground experience really is invaluable. Secondly, never give up, you'll get there in the end!"
Rebecca Wilson, Environment and Planning Manager
"I grew an interest in the countryside from a very early age when my father used to take me to a local shoot and work our dogs as part of the picking up team. At college I studied Game & Wildlife and during this course was lucky enough to do work experience with a local Forestry Commission Wildlife Ranger. I went on to study for a foundation degree in Wildlife and during this time the Forestry Commission were offering student placements, so off to Grizedale in the Lake District I went!
I later completed a year as Apprentice Wildlife Ranger; I’m told I was the first woman to have secured this role. From this, I went on to become a Wildlife Ranger in the Forest of Dean, which I was privileged to do for many years. After feeling the need for a change, I was given the opportunity to shift roles to Work Supervisor in the same area on the same beat.
Work Supervisor is a varied position. Among other things, I supervise harvesting operations, site preparation, deer and rabbit fencing, planting and site maintenance contracts. Due to my wildlife background, I still have a heavy interest in the ecology and conservation side of the job. I also work alongside a beat team and assist the forester, wildlife rangers, recreation and community rangers with any projects on my beat."
Sid Davis, Work Supervisor