Growing Our People Q & A with Tilhill Forestry Forest Manager Sam Brown.
“One thing we should not underestimate is the public perception of forestry in a world which seems to be becoming more environmentally aware.”
What is your job role within Tilhill Forestry?
I am a Forest Manager based in Wales. I manage forest properties for private clients and undertake forestry contracting work.
What do you do? Tell us about your typical day?
Work as a Forest Manager is very varied and you are required to have a broad practical knowledge of planting, plant maintenance, timber measuring, road construction and also good IT, communication and budgeting skills. Some work activities can happen all year round but there are also seasonal activities every year such as planting (typically Jan to April). You’re not expected to know everything and there is a wealth of knowledge and expertise within the company which can be drawn on when undertaking a new project which you are not familiar with.
My typical day can start with site visits in the morning, it’s a good excuse to check what is happening on site. Site visits consist of meeting forest owners, meeting workers in the forest undertaking the forest operations and concentrating on the quality of the work, health and safety to protect the work force and general site checks within a forest (stocking surveys or fence boundary checks etc). The best mornings are cool, crisp and dry but we get a bit of variation in Wales with our fair share of wind and rain too!
In the afternoon I will typically head back to the office to complete paperwork, prepare for up and coming forest operations, planning and forecasting etc required to run a working forest. I particularly enjoy preparing maps and try to include as much visual information on any maps rather than lengthy Word documents. My desk is a mixture of ‘organised piles of paper’, a couple of computer screens and a large mug of black coffee to keep me going.
How did you get into forestry?
I left school with my A levels and a rough plan to work for a year and then study for a BSc in engineering. After working for four years as a building labourer and not putting into action my previous plan I looked at options to train in a trade or further education options. I had looked at forestry degrees when completing my A levels and eventually applied to Bangor University to study. I deliberately chose the degree course with a placement year in the industry hoping this would give me valuable experience when applying for future jobs. I had (and I believe most do) a certain view of Land Rovers and being outside when thinking of forestry and this is in part true, but a very simplistic view of the job of a forester.
What do you like and not like about working in this industry?
- Mixture of outdoor and indoor work
- Within reason you manage your own time
- The variation of work undertaken throughout a year
- The location I live, work and play in.
- Too much paperwork at any one time
Why did you decide to choose to work for Tilhill Forestry?
During my degree I was always aware of Tilhill Forestry and during my final year undertook my honours project in one of their forests. I had the opportunity to speak to and question a few of the managers about Tilhill and their job roles. My impression was of a friendly, knowledgeable office with the role being a good mixture of tasks. At this time I became aware of the Company graduate programme and thought this would be a great way to start a career in forestry.
What do you like most about the company?
I particularly like that you can approach anyone within the Company to discuss work matters and that senior managers know you and have an interest in you. It is generally a friendly place to work. I also like the fact that as long as work is completed to a high standard and on time there is flexibility to achieve personal goals.
How do you feel Tilhill Forestry contributes to its employees’ professional development?
Tilhill is very active in encouraging professional development of its employees. There are company knowledge transfer events as well as internal training events. These range from health and safety awareness activities such as our annual Insist on Safety days, to management development events. We are also encouraged to attend external events ran by organisations such as the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), Royal Forestry Society, Forest Research etc. Last year I was able to represent Tilhill Foresty at the ICF annual conference on Innovation for Change. This was a two day conference looking at technological solutions for forestry both now and into the future.
Tilhill supports and encourages our membership of the ICF. As individuals, membership of the ICF requires us to record continual personal development on a rolling three year basis. This is very important to show our competence and ensure we have the best and latest knowledge in our field of expertise.
What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation?
Changes in forestry at present vary greatly and can be relatively fickle with only short term effects to much wider issues that have global effects.
The recent big change has been the increase in timber prices. This is currently supporting a vibrant timber industry but could change rapidly depending on global markets and local demand/supply chains.
Long term changes are advances in technology. In my relatively short time working in forestry more work is being completed paperless in the field and new technologies are being developed and trialled by innovative companies, such as drones planting trees.
Due to budgetary cuts in government departments there is good evidence that collaborative and self-funded forest research is being pushed forward by the private sector with public sector involvement and Tilhill Forestry are at the forefront. This can only be a good thing, especially if we can show the benefit to the forestry industry and the wider public.
One thing we should not underestimate is the public perception of forestry in a world which seems to be becoming more environmentally aware. I think that foresters should be helping to drive this perception which can be positive or negative depending on people’s viewpoints.
How does a person progress in your field?
I have always believed that the best way to progress is to work hard and say yes to as many opportunities that come along as possible. This is dependent on someone giving you a chance to show your worth and therefore it is good to gain as much experience as possible. Opportunities can be as simple as attending forestry events, getting talking to people within the industry, offering your experience and views. Offering to show students and other people within the industry your forestry sites and projects and importantly, discussing what people would have done differently. There is never one correct answer.
It is also worth reviewing what position or role within a company you would like to achieve so you can make decisions to work towards that goal.
What is your advice to anyone wishing to pursue forestry as a career?
Get experience of land management or any practical skills, this doesn’t need to be directly related but can be useful transferrable skills.
Forestry is a relatively small world, attending events such as your local RFS visits and ICF events are a great way to get to know people within the industry and learn about forestry in the UK.