Q & A with Assistant Forest Manager Graduate Heather Fraser

An interview with Heather Fraser, Assistant Forest Manager in Central Scotland.

 “Tilhill Forestry takes its employees’ personal development seriously”

What is your job role within Tilhill Forestry?

I am a Graduate Assistant Forest Manager on the graduate training programme with Tilhill Forestry.

What do you do?  Tell us about your typical day?

All sorts of things.  I do not have a typical day, nor at present do I have a typical work load.  Depending on what has been asked of me I could be doing peat surveys, pricing tenders, checking contractor progress, shadowing managers on site visits, beat-up surveys, ordering trees, organising and meeting contractors or creating maps on GIS software, and that list is not exhaustive!

How did you get into forestry?

In my younger days I studied Geography and always had a wish to work outdoors and see the world but progressing in the part-time job I had during my studies saw me gain management experience in a pub rather than pursuing a job related to my degree. 

Years later I realised that it was not for me.  I began to explore my options and volunteered with various bodies and studied an HNC in Countryside and Environmental Management at SRUC through distance learning; this reignited my interest.  I changed my job to one which had more regular hours which made it easier to take on a weekend job as a ranger.  Having explored my options through my course and volunteering, it became clear that land-based management was of interest to me.  I liked the idea of being able to make a positive impact on the landscape, ensuring no damage is made to the (ecology) of the area, and implementing measures for conservation.

It was clear my formal education and experience were not enough at this stage, so I applied (and was accepted) to study Environmental and Forest Management at the University of Aberdeen.  The forestry modules swayed my interest and I realised I had an affinity for the woods – and now here I am.

What do you like and not like so far about working in this industry?

Mapping and getting fresh air at work are both my most enjoyed elements about the job.  I like doing mapping and it is a skill I really wish to develop.  It is satisfying collecting the data in the field and then interpreting/transferring it into map form. I also value continuous learning, which is a key element of being a forest manager at any level.  I do not particularly dislike anything about the job except possibly long drives or losing my wellington in the mud!

Why did you decide to work for Tilhill Forestry?

The Graduate Programme ticked all the boxes for me, coupled with the reputation of the company for being good at what they do.  Tilhill care for their employees.  There is progression opportunity and the company clearly has a willingness to take on graduates and train them up.  All these elements swayed my decision.  I knew for certain after meeting some employees at the Forestry Society dinner in Aberdeen.  They made an impression and my decision was made – I just needed them to accept me!

What do you like most about this company?

The people culture.  This takes many forms; district and team meetings, welcoming colleagues who actively engage with you and the fostering of graduate development.  Health and Safety has the highest of priorities and it really shows. Other businesses have Health and Safety as a priority on paper, but when it comes to it, do not really follow through. Tilhill Forestry ensures it is at the core of everything that they do and that is drilled into you from day one.  

How do you feel Tilhill Forestry contributes to its employees’ professional development?

I believe Tilhill Forestry takes its employees’ personal development seriously. This can be seen from the training, and visits and memberships that Tilhill provide. With Tilhill so far, I have been enrolled on soil and 4×4 training, actively supported with ICF membership, gained a mentor on a mentor/mentee day and given the opportunity to go on visits to properties run by different bodies and societies.

What is your advice to anyone wishing to pursue forestry as a career?

Volunteer or find work in the conservation/outdoor sector.   Volunteering with The Conservation Volunteers (TCV) and being a ranger with a National Park for me were a good introduction to what it is like to work outdoors in the Scottish weather and was a good way of gaining transferrable skills and experience.