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 2021 and things are looking a little different at Forestry England. 40% of our workforce is now female and the launch of our Women in Forestry Program Board last year has already started to make positive changes for women in our workplaces.
Two days are never the same as an Assistant Area Land Agent! One day I could be in a woodland meeting with the beat foresters, another day I could be speaking with the tenants, licensees or looking at a planning application for a new sculpture site. Due to the pandemic, I'm mostly based from home, which makes visits to the forests a real treat!
In 2019 with the support of Forestry England, I had the opportunity to further my professional qualifications and took an examination to become a Fellow of the Central Association of Agricultural Valuers. I passed and was awarded the overall examination prize for the highest marked candidate in the West Midlands examination group.
My advice to anyone who'd like to start a career in forestry? Make the most of every opportunity, and take the time to learn from others because the knowledge you pick up on the way, only better equips you for the future.
Hannah Morgan BSc (Hons) MRICS FAAV, Assistant Area Land Agent
I first joined Forestry England as a seasonal recreation ranger at Wendover Woods. I loved the job but wanted to put my forestry skills to more use, so after spending a few years at Wendover I went to Thetford to work as an operations works supervisor. This was the complete opposite of being in recreation! I was working on harvesting sites, tariffing and looking after the underplanting sites.
Whilst helping out on the North Norfolk and Sandlings beats during my time at Thetford, I saw how the role brought both worlds together. There is no separation between operations and recreation on the beat, you have to do it all!
The core part of my job is the day to day running of the beat, making sure operations run smoothly and safely and looking after all of our beautiful trees. Working together with the forester and craftsperson teams. I also take on recreation responsibilities such as inspecting and maintaining trails and play equipment.
We get a few spanners in the works every now and then, this can be due to anti-social behaviour or extreme weather. But there is always support from the beat and district team.
When I was younger I knew I wanted to work outside, I wasn’t great at school as I’m rather useless at sitting at a desk, (I am getting better at it these days). But there are so many varied roles for everyone within Forestry England and in my position, you can bring your dog to work, a big bonus for me!
Saskia Pilbeam, Cleveland Beat Works Supervisor
I first joined the Forestry Commission in 2015 and over the last five years or so, I’ve worked in three different roles across the organisation.
Most recently, I was involved with organising a year-long celebration of the Forestry Commission’s centenary in 2019. Throughout the year, we worked on an exciting and varied range of projects – from unveiling Rachel Whiteread’s Nissen hut sculpture in Dalby Forest and our Writers in the Forest residency programme, to taking an award-winning forested garden to RHS Chelsea Flower Show and holding tree planting ceremonies in every corner of England. I can say with some certainty that no two days in 2019 felt the same!
In my current job, I work with partners to share our knowledge, passion and expertise about forests; help more people understand the wonderful work Forestry England does; and bring in additional income that means we can do more for the nature and the communities we support. One of the things I love most about this, is working with experts who are endlessly inspiring – whether that’s foresters, ecologists or wellbeing specialists. I’ve learned so much about our wild places, the creatures that live in them and the magical, restorative powers of being outside in nature.
I know I’m not alone in saying that my best work days are spent outdoors in the beautiful landscapes we care for. The events of 2020 put a pause on that, but I’m looking forward to getting out and exploring again this year.
Meera Hindocha, Head of Partnerships
As a cycle ranger in the Forest of Dean, my day usually starts with a site check, making sure the facilities are all ok for the day ahead. Carrying out trail inspections and building a plan of maintenance forms a large part of my time. The inspections are carried out by bike and on foot, and with around 50 kilometres of trail to check each month this is no small task. Trail maintenance is done mostly by hand by myself and one other Forestry England member of staff. Thankfully we also have a large, dedicated team of volunteers called the Dean Trail Volunteers who are always keen (rain or shine) to be out maintaining and improving the trails.
I also work with specialist contractors when large scale re-designs on the trails are needed. These take a long time to plan but are worth the effort when you get to see how much fun people have riding the finished product. It’s always exciting to ride a new section of trail and even more so when you have been part of the process.
As a site ranger, I am also on hand for when things don’t quite go to plan, for example finding lost children, helping injured riders and assisting the emergency services when needed. It’s a busy job but its great getting to spend so much time out in the forest and riding on trails I love.
For anyone thinking about a job like mine, I'd tell them to follow what makes you happy, find the things you are good at and don’t be afraid to try things. If you are looking to gain experience, there are all sorts of volunteering opportunities that can give you a great sense of the different kinds of jobs out there. I certainly never realised when I was at school that this kind of job existed!
Kate Thoday, Recreation and Cycle Ranger Forest of Dean
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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