From Surrey to Sitka and back again.

I guess I’m in a slightly different position to most graduates who start their careers with Tilhill Forestry. I began my time at Tilhill in the Investment and Property Team dealing with clients and acquisitions. This gave me a good insight into the financial aspect of owning a forest or woodland. I am now progressing into forest management and starting to really get my hands dirty. That being said, I think my path has been just as interesting and enjoyable as anyone else’s more traditional entry into the Company.

Unlike some, I can’t boast about actively planning to get into forestry, but I’m not really surprised that I’ve found my way here. Most people I’ve met in the industry seem to have a very similar set of characteristics. These range from a love or fascination with the outdoors and desire to be immersed in it to being a generally friendly and approachable character. Of course, another attribute is the all-important nonchalant attitude to throwing yourself down apparently impassable slopes on the back of an assortment of cogs, wheels and frames.

I studied Environmental Science at university but first heard of Tilhill Forestry a few years before while walking the dogs (another important trait I think, particularly as at one point there were actually more dogs than people in my previous office) in a woodland close to my home in Surrey. I thought managing forests sounded like something I could enjoy so I sent off an email asking for opportunities for work experience. Unfortunately, nothing was available at that time.

By some stroke of luck, the company name appeared again at a careers talk just before I left university. This time, with a healthy dose of volunteering for the Forestry Commission and a degree behind me, I was invited to interview. After a few more probing questions from David Edwards, I had somehow kept my head and was whisked off to the then little-known (to me) town of Dumfries to do battle with spreadsheets and something called Sitka spruce?

The company has been great at involving the graduates within the business; I’ve been sent off to career days at universities and had lots of exposure through the Management Development Programme. I’ve also been involved in a few interesting projects involving large scale rewilding and another monitoring the specification of logs being bought by our parent company into their Southampton mill. A few years down the line and I’d like to think my forestry knowledge has grown significantly. I now cover properties in southern central England. The business in this area of course has its own unique challenges and flavours when compared to other areas.

Recently, I’ve really enjoyed managing my own planting sites – from conception to getting trees in the ground. It’s great to put the work in and see such a physical change as the result. As I write, the south has just had its first tangible snowfall of the winter and I’m hoping all our plants are staying tucked up snug in their tubes.  We’ve also recently taken steps into the foreboding world of technology with the purchase of some shiny new tablets. So far, these have been a great help in digitising things like site notes and maps which both speeds up and simplifies our processes.

As it happens, I now use my new skills to help manage the woodland in which I first heard of Tilhill Forestry, which seems to bring me to a pleasant full circle and an appropriate place to end my first blog. 

Alex MacKinnon