Forest/woodland managers, or foresters, are responsible for managing forests and woodlands and oversee activities such as timber production, conservation and recreation.

They maintain and manage various issues associated with woodland areas, such as commercial interests, biodiversity and public access.

The challenge for modern forestry is to establish a balance between competing economic and social demands for forest and land use. This challenge includes a change of emphasis towards multipurpose forests, regeneration of native woodlands and sustainable forest management.

Responsibilities

Tasks usually involve:

  • advising clients on good forestry practice and providing a contract service to woodland owners, including those interested in acquiring land for establishment of new forests;
  • advising woodland owners on the establishment of the most appropriate tree species (whether by planting or natural regeneration), budgeting, public access, ecological surveys and forest certification;
  • organising the growing, harvesting, marketing and sale of timber;
  • planning and implementing annual work programmes and ensuring the effective use of resources to meet the current objectives of the forest area;
  • supervising forest workers and contractors in the field, which may include negotiation with subcontracting companies;
  • liaising with customers, landowners, timber merchants, the public and local authorities;
  • liaising and working on many projects with other professionals, such as landscape architects, archaeologists, biologists, geologists, chartered surveyors and engineers and charitable bodies;
  • attending meetings of professional bodies;
  • keeping up to date with changes to legislation and other developments;
  • working to and maintaining globally recognised forest certification;
  • planning and controlling budgets and preparing costing and financial forecasts;
  • promoting the expansion of new woodland coverage and, where possible, the restoration of ancient woodland in the UK.

Forest/woodland managers are also involved in forest protection, which is a wide-ranging part of the role reflecting the government's desire to promote sustainable forest management. This includes:

  • conducting research in areas such as silviculture, pathology, tree improvement and entomology;
  • monitoring existing forestry practices;
  • protecting forests from illegal felling, pests and diseases;
  • ensuring that the presence of forests does not detrimentally affect the surrounding environment and wildlife by damaging wildlife habitats, water supplies or soil.

Salary

  • The Forestry Commission Graduate Development Programme offers a starting salary of just over £24,000. Incremental rises have been frozen by the government's public sector pay freeze - the only rise given until 2019 shall be a cost of living increase capped at 1%.

Salaries and other benefits in the private sector vary much more widely than in the public sector. The lowest pay is generally on private estates, but there may be other benefits in these posts, such as accommodation and a car.

Income data from the Forestry Commission. Figures are intended as a guide only.

What to expect

  • A 2:1 degree or above in any specialism is required and a full driving licence is usually necessary.
  • There is a mixture of office-based and outdoor work, sometimes in all weathers and possibly in remote places.
  • Self-employment and freelance work are becoming more popular. There are opportunities to establish a contract business for those with practical skills, and consultancy work for those with experience and specialist knowledge. There are especially good opportunities for consultancy work in urban areas.
  • There are currently more men than women working in forestry, although more women are now entering the industry. The impression that the job is physically tough may deter some people, but it is generally a more managerial than hands-on role. The Forestry Commission promotes equal opportunities and there are no bars to progression within the industry as a whole.
  • Jobs are available in most areas of the UK, but particularly in rural areas of Scotland, Wales and the North of England.
  • Working hours may include unsocial hours and weekend work.
  • Travel within a working day is common and occasional overnight absence from home may be required. Depending on the role, overseas travel may be a feature of the job.

Qualifications

To enter this area of work you need to have a degree in a relevant area. In particular, the following degree subjects may improve your chances:

  • ecology;
  • environmental science;
  • forestry;
  • geography;
  • horticulture;
  • land, estate or property management;
  • rural studies.

A small number of forestry HNDs, degrees and postgraduate qualifications are offered at UK universities and colleges; traditionally, this has been the entry route to the profession.

However, with the diversification of the industry away from purely timber production, a wider range of degrees, combined with relevant experience, is becoming more acceptable.

Entry without a degree or HND is possible at lower levels but further progression will depend on gaining relevant experience and study towards a qualification on a part-time basis.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification, either a postgraduate diploma or an MSc in Forestry, is necessary for holders of a non-relevant degree or HND.

It is advisable to take a course accredited by the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF). Courses are listed on their website. Successful completion of an accredited course will be the quickest route to associate membership. With further experience and study this can lead to chartered membership, which will give you professional recognition.

Skills

You will also need to be physically fit and be able to evidence the following skills:

  • teamwork;
  • organisation;
  • communication;
  • leadership;
  • numeracy.

A full UK driving licence is essential, although the Forestry Commission is willing to consider proposals put forward by applicants that would allow them to do the job by other means.

The Civil Service uses a competency framework to assess candidates' suitability, focusing on the following areas:

  • leading and communicating;
  • collaborating and partnering;
  • building capability for all;
  • achieving commercial outcomes;
  • delivering value for money;
  • managing a quality service;
  • delivering at pace.

Work experience

Relevant experience is extremely valuable and will help strengthen your application when searching for jobs. You may find it possible to arrange some summer work experience, either paid or unpaid and speculative applications to forestry companies and forestry management groups are worthwhile.

In addition to relevant qualifications and skills, practical experience is important for entry to the profession, some forestry degrees are sandwich courses, allowing you to complete a year in industry as part of your study. The Forestry Commission provides student sandwich placements.

There are several voluntary organisations working in woodland management:

Overseas volunteering opportunities are available through specialist agencies such as:

In addition, many of the organisations that run a range of volunteer programmes abroad offer forestry-related projects.

There are varied job opportunities within this field, especially if you are willing to travel. There is strong competition for jobs, so gaining as much varied work experience as possible is crucial and will enhance your application.

Employers

The Forestry Commission estimates that more than 30,000 people are employed in the forestry sector in the UK. Approximately 2,400 of those work for the Forestry Commission; this is less than in previous years due to cuts in the public sector.

Others work in private estates and the wood processing industry, other forest management companies and timber harvesting companies.

The types of employers involved in forest management can be roughly divided into the following categories:

  • the Forestry Commission;
  • other public sector employers such as town and county councils;
  • charities such as The Woodland Trust and the National Trust;
  • private companies such as Tilhill Forestry and Scottish Woodlands;
  • private estates, which employ either their own staff or have contracting companies doing the work;
  • timber companies;
  • contracting companies employed by landowners to provide a range of services and expertise;
  • cooperatives formed from groups of landowners to provide management and marketing services;
  • self-employed subcontractors who may work for any of the above employers at a pre-agreed rate.

Conservation is an increasingly important factor in forest management and there are a number of organisations, such as The Woodland Trust, involved with this work. Although volunteers perform crucial roles for such organisations, there are paid jobs open to graduates with suitable experience.

The sector offers jobs with timber merchants, contractors and importers, and in sawmills, pulp mills, and paper and panel-board mills.

There is an increasing focus on forestry and woodland management in the areas of recreation and amenities, as well as in bio fuels and collaboration with energy firms. From time to time the Forestry Commission runs initiatives covering specific aspects of forest management or offering special training opportunities. Keep checking the Forestry Commission website for details.

Look for job vacancies at:

The ICF register of consultants and Click Forestry are useful directories. For contact details of local woodland management companies and contractors, also use the Yellow Pages.

Get more tips on how to find a job, create a successful CV and cover letter, and prepare for interviews.

Professional development

Structured technical and management training is offered by the Forestry Commission and all large private companies within the industry. A large amount of practical training is delivered on the job.

If you take a degree course accredited by the ICF and become an associate member, you can follow the ICF's Professional Membership Entry (PME) route. This leads to professional chartered status and the use of the initials MICFor after your name.

Chartered status can be gained through examination after at least two years of approved professional practice in forestry or arboriculture. The second part of the examination involves an interview, as well as an assessment of professional competence and presentation of a professional practice portfolio.

In order to retain chartered status, continuing professional development (CPD) is essential. The ICF recommends undertaking 100 hours of CPD every three years. Suitable CPD activities include participating in conferences, meetings, discussion groups and short courses, as well as publishing technical work and delivering lectures.

The Forestry Commission encourages staff to engage in formal training courses to advance professional development. Their internal training division provides training for its own employees, as well as external personnel working within the sector. They provide traditional forest management courses as well as courses in people management, business and IT. For a range of skills-based forestry courses, use the Lantra CourseFinder .

Career prospects

Career progression is initially dependent on further study to achieve chartered status through the ICF and undertaking continuing professional development (CPD). Relevant experience is also an important factor.

You may find that promotion is easier if you are geographically mobile, as it is often necessary to change jobs and location to gain a range of industry experience. Promotion depends on the size and structure of the organisation you join and on acquiring a variety of experiences across many different work activities.

Progression to senior roles inevitably means less time spent in forests and more time spent in the office and in meetings. Some may find this difficult as a love for the outdoors is the main reason many first enter the industry.

Senior managers, especially in charitable organisations and public bodies, have the opportunity to be involved with influencing government policy on the nation's woodlands.