Q&A with Aberdeen University Tilhill Forestry Award Winner William Johnson

Aberdeen University William Johnson won the Tilhill Forestry Award for being the top performing student on the MSc Environmental and Forest Management programme in 2018-2019.


Tilhill Forestry was given the opportunity to chat to Will following his win.

Tell us a bit about yourself, where are you from, what course are you taking and what led you to study this subject?
I grew up in Hampshire and read biology at Oxford University as an undergraduate. I joined the Army in 2003, serving in The Black Watch and Royal Regiment of Scotland and was deployed to Iraq, N. Ireland and Afghanistan before leaving in 2012. I then joined the US bank JP Morgan on a veterans’ programme and became an equity fund manager, running a sustainable equity fund. It was while doing this, researching the many pressing environmental and social issues that affected our investments, that I realised I wanted to be working more closely with the environment, and so returned to university. I moved to Aberdeen with my wife Aly and daughter Matilda, where I read the MSc in Environmental and Forest Management at the University of Aberdeen. I have always been keenly interested in forests and wanted my future career to be involved with them in some way.

What did your course consist of and how do you think it benefited you?
The course modules covered many topics, including forest ecology, soil science, forest mensuration, harvesting, forest management planning, spatial analysis (GIS systems) and conservation. There was also a research component – I focused on biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in a tropical forest in Sabah, Malaysia, integrating several datasets to examine the relationship between tree species diversity and forest biomass. I think the course gave me a very good understanding of how forest ecosystems work, and how they can be managed sustainably for many different objectives. It also gave me a good foundation in the skills and knowledge I need for a PhD.

How does it feel to win the Tilhill Forestry award?
I feel privileged to receive the award, and that all the hard work over the previous year was well worth it. Of course, I have to share the credit with my wife, Aly, for all the support she has given me this year.

How would you encourage others to follow in your footsteps?
I’m not sure anyone would want to follow me! I would say that for a Masters’ Degree, or indeed anything, you get out of it what you put into it. Investing hard work and passion into a subject pays off in the long run.

What are your plans for the future?
I will continue with the PhD at Newcastle University I started in September this year, researching the impacts of habitat management on functional biodiversity and ecosystem services in the tropics, in Tanzania.