Growing Our People: Gary Waters

‘Growing Our People’ a Q&A with Tilhill Forestry’s Central Borders Assistant Forest Manager Gary Waters.

What do you do? Tell us about your typical day?
I am fortunate to work as an Assistant Forest Manager at Tilhill Forestry’s Central Borders office in Jedburgh. Most of my time is focused on helping the Senior Forest Managers within the region with the stewardship of numerous established forests and woodland creation schemes.

This primarily involves surveying our client’s property to assess the health and condition of the forest and arranging for the required maintenance to be carried out. One of the great benefits of the job is I am able to spend a good portion of my time supervising planting, maintenance and harvesting operations which gives me the opportunity to put boots to the ground and work in the great outdoors.

How did you get into forestry?
I grew up working for the family arboriculture and landscaping business and always had an interest in the natural sciences. This led me to study Woodland Ecology and Conservation at the National School of Forestry in Ambleside. After graduating in July 2019, I was glad to be offered a job with Tilhill Forestry in Jedburgh under their widely recognised graduate scheme.

What do you like the most about working in this industry?
The great variety of roles a Forest Manager fulfils in a days work always keeps me engaged and enthusiastic. Within this industry we spend one moment organising surveys for protected species, the next helping plan road infrastructure upgrades and the remainder of our day could be spent as an accountant working on a three-year budget for a client’s property.

What do you like most about Tilhill Forestry?
In the short time that I have been with Tilhill I have been fortunate enough to work with a wide selection of colleagues within my Region, all of whom are friendly and willing to devote extra time to show me the ropes. The national coverage of the company also provides a wealth of experience in a wide range of fields.

How do you feel Tilhill Forestry contributes to its employees’ professional development?
Tilhill Forestry is, without a doubt, committed to investing in its employees. In the six months that I have been with the company I have been given the opportunity to attend industry conferences and stakeholder engagement events. I have also been supported in obtaining practical and technical qualifications such as my PfCO (Drone Pilots Licence) and ATV ticket. Recently, whilst on a management skills course, we were given a talk by the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) which highlighted the number of chartered members there were within the company and how Tilhill was dedicated to facilitating membership for all employees.

What sort of changes are occurring in your occupation?
Whilst studying and working within forestry I have become aware of the desire for new technologies to be adopted. For example, drone surveying when used appropriately can help improve accuracy and make an operation more time-efficient. We are always keen to get our hands on a new bit of kit which may enable us to do a better job in what can be challenging work environments. The rising popularity of ‘walking’ excavators, which allow us to safely work on sites which previously would be unreachable, is a good example of this in practice.

I am glad to report that the rising public awareness of the benefits of planting more trees when coupled with indicated governmental support should see us putting more trees in the ground in this new decade. Which, as I’m sure you can imagine, from a forester’s perspective is a great thing to look forward to, engage with and promote.

How does a person progress in your field?
With a good pair of welly boots… Joking aside, there are opportunities within the company to progress through to become a Senior Forest Manager or Area Manager. A pragmatic problem solver with good interpersonal skills and an ability to plan in my opinion is the quintessential definition of a forester. Anyone who recognises themselves in that description will likely progress quickly within the industry.

What is your advice to anyone wishing to pursue forestry as a career?
A combination of practical experience and academic acumen will equip a person best for the job as a Forest Manager as they provide a breadth of perspective from which to plan and execute operational work.  A proficiency in managing people is also a vital part of the role which can be learnt from any career.  I know many people within the industry who have successfully come into the role with attributes built up from other careers such as engineering or an education in criminology even.

Forestry is a varied and open industry with roles to suit a range of personalities and passions. In my opinion the greatest attribute a person can have is a willingness to get stuck in and an appreciation for the wider natural world; if you have that then forestry is for you.