Q & A with West Highland Forest Manager Bryan Pearce.

“…at no point in school was forestry mentioned as a job let alone a career, otherwise I may have found this career that I enjoy so much a lot sooner.”


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

At present I am spending a lot of time on woodland creation, I have two new woodlands at different stages.  I have completed the application for one site and it is at the public consultation stage so I am beginning to plan operations.  The other is all fenced and nearly planted so, after months of operational management, I am nearly at the finish line for that one, although once created the ongoing management starts – a truly sustainable industry.

The beauty of this job, and this industry, is that there is rarely a typical day. A forest manager is required to have such a wide range of skills and abilities, not just in silviculture but also road engineering, geology, ecology, economics, archaeology, public relations, health and safety… the list goes on.  I work in such a topographically and ecologically diverse part of the country that having to constantly identify and manage constraints and opportunities for each forest and operation I am involved with is the only typical part of the job.


How did you get into forestry?  

Fancying a break from my previous career in hotel management, I took some time out to plant trees. Enjoying the ‘stress free’ environment that forestry afforded me I remained in this role for a few years managing a small team carrying out establishment and maintenance operations for several private forest management companies and Forest Enterprise Scotland.  This led me to wanting to make forestry more of a career than a stop gap and, in 2015, a job opportunity came up in Tilhill Forestry for a forest supervisor.  I was lucky enough to secure this position and have worked my way up to my current forest manager role.


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

I’m not sure there’s anything I don’t like. I love the variety and challenge of the job, it gives me tremendous job satisfaction.


Why did you decide to work for Tilhill Forestry?  

As a contractor I had a unique insight into how more than a dozen forest management companies operate. I always liked working for Tilhill, operations ran smoothly and the managers were approachable and happy to take time to discuss or explain any concerns.  When the opportunity arose to have a position within Tilhill I jumped at the chance.


What do you like most about this company?  

With such a broad spectrum of experience and expertise whenever I encounter a problem or an issue, there is someone in the company who is not only able, but happy, to help and advise.


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

Having joined the company as a forest supervisor without any formal qualification in forest management I have been overwhelmed at the support and advice that the company has given me.  At district level there is advice from other forest managers and the District Manager who are keen to encourage my professional development through courses.  At a company level the Unlocking Potential Course and the Mentor Scheme have been a big help in developing my personal skills and helping me form relationships within the wider company.


What sorts of changes are occurring in your occupation?  

Most of the changes within our industry have been technological and, to be honest, mostly on the harvesting side which is increasingly mechanised.  However, forest management in recent years has seen the use of new apps for mapping and mensuration and the use of drones for mapping, improving data capture to help management and operational planning. 

These have been a huge help in reducing man hours surveying land.  I do see drones as a valuable tool in recording data, however, they can’t entirely replace boots on the ground as a method of information gathering, as often, potential issues in the forests are mainly only identified and resolved by time spent in the forest by the manager.


How does a person progress in your field?  

By taking on more responsibility and challenges.  Also, helping others to develop their forestry careers by mentoring new staff coming in to the company. So far I think that I have been able to progress because I am keen to learn.  I have tried to gain experience in as many aspects of the job as I can, as quickly as I can.  I have been lucky that each line manager I have had has been willing to help me do this.  If I want to progress I believe I have to understand all aspects of not just my current role, but to identify and start learning the additional requirements of the next level so that when the opportunity to apply for a position becomes available, I have already gained at least some of the necessary experience.


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

Do it!  There are lots of opportunities and lots of ways into the industry with a huge variety of different roles, some specialist and some more general with something to suit a wide variety of different skills and personalities. I went to school in rural Argyll, an area surrounded by commercial forestry but, unfortunately, at no point in school was forestry mentioned as a job let alone a career, otherwise I may have found this career that I enjoy so much a lot sooner.  I would happily encourage anyone to pursue a career in the industry.