The care and management of forests, woodlands and trees throughout the UK offers a diverse, professional career, combining commercial acumen with a love of the outdoors
Working as a forest/woodland manager, or forester, you'll have the responsibility of managing designated forest/woodland areas and will oversee activities such as timber production, conservation and recreation.
You'll also manage other associated matters, such as commercial interests, biodiversity and public access. Establishing a balance between competing economic and social demands for forest and land use can present a challenge. This may mean you become involved in the creation of multipurpose forests, sustainable forest management and the regeneration of native woodlands.
As a forest/woodland manager, you'll need to:
- advise clients on good forestry practice and provide a contract service to woodland owners, including those interested in acquiring land for establishment of new forests
- advise woodland owners on the most appropriate tree species (whether by planting or natural regeneration), and on budgeting, public access, ecological surveys and forest certification
- organise the growing, harvesting, marketing and sale of timber
- plan and implement annual work programmes and ensure the effective use of resources to meet the current objectives of the forest area
- supervise forest workers and contractors in the field, which may involve negotiating with subcontracting companies
- liaise with customers, landowners, timber merchants, the public and local authorities
- liaise with other professionals, such as landscape architects, archaeologists, biologists, geologists, chartered surveyors and engineers
- liaise with charitable bodies
- attend meetings
- keep up to date with changes in legislation and other developments in the industry
- work to and maintain globally recognised forest certification
- plan and control budgets and prepare costing and financial forecasts
- promote the expansion of new woodland coverage and, where possible, the restoration of ancient woodland in the UK.
You may also carry out the following tasks, in relation to forest protection:
- conduct research in areas such as silviculture, pathology, tree improvement and entomology
- monitor existing forestry practices
- protect forests from illegal felling, pests and diseases
- ensure that forests are not detrimentally affecting the environment and wildlife around them, by damaging wildlife habitats, water supplies or soil.
- The Forestry Commission Graduate Development Programme offers a starting salary of just over £25,044.
Salaries and other benefits in the private sector vary much more widely than in the public sector. The lowest pay is generally for roles on private estates, but these posts may come with other benefits such as accommodation and a car.
Income data from the Forestry Commission. Figures are intended as a guide only.
What to expect
- 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.
- 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.
Traditionally, completing a forestry HND, degree or postgraduate course would have been the norm and there are a few such specific courses offered at UK universities and colleges.
However, with greater diversification in the industry, you can these days usually enter the profession from a broader range of relevant degrees, provided you have a 2:1 degree or higher. These include:
- business studies
- civil engineering
- environmental science
- land, estate or property management
- rural studies.
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's advisable to take a course accredited by the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), which you'll be able to find 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, from which you'll earn professional recognition.
You will need to show:
- good physical fitness
- good teamworking skills
- organisational ability
- good communication
- leadership ability
- the aptitude to achieve commercial outcomes
- an understanding of the need to deliver a cost-effective, quality service
- if applying for a job within the Civil Service, that you meet the specifications of the competency framework
- that you hold a full driving licence, or have the means to get to locations as required.
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:
- Evergreen in Canada
- Eye on the Rain Forest in Puerto Rico
- Projects Abroad
- Tree People
- US Forest Service in the USA.
Thousands of people are employed in the forestry sector in the UK. A significant proportion of those work for the Forestry Commission, with the rest working for private estates, other forest management companies, timber harvesting companies and the wood processing industry.
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.
You could also work on the conservation side of forest management, for an organisation such as The Woodland Trust. 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 recreation and amenities within forestry and woodland management, and also on 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:
- Environmentjob.co.uk - also a source of voluntary opportunities.
- Forestry Commission
- Forestry Journal
- The Woodland Trust
The Forestry Commission and all large private companies within the industry provide structured technical and management training and you will be given a large amount of practical training 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.
Continuing professional development (CPD) is essential and 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.
Achieving chartered status, which you can do through ICF, is the best way to make sure you have the right skills and experience for promotion.
It'll help if you can be geographically mobile, as changing jobs and location is often necessary to gain a range of industry experience. What promotion opportunities you're open to will also depend on the size and structure of the organisation you join.
If you work in a charitable organisation, or for a public body, you may have the opportunity to be involved with influencing government policy on the nation's woodlands.
Progression to senior roles inevitably means less time spent in forests and more time spent in the office and in meetings. This can be difficult if your love for the outdoors is the main reason for choosing a career in forest or woodland management.