So what does a forester actually do…?

When asked about my career, this is the question I am asked most often. Almost everyone seems to think that foresters cut down trees for a living, whilst wearing checked shirts (that part is probably true). I have to admit that before I started working in the industry I was probably in the same position, unfortunately, it is not one of those careers that many preschool kids aspire to and is rarely discussed at high school careers nights.

So, what do foresters actually do, I hear you ask? I can’t speak for every forester, as the job can vary significantly depending on where you are based and what your skill set is. Nevertheless, I plan to share some of the aspects of my job as a forest manager working in the Scottish Borders over the past two and a half years to give you some insight into what you can expect from a career in forestry.

One of the biggest parts of the job is contract management. As a forest manager you will be responsible for the implementation of all work relating to the management of the forest. This will include road construction, harvesting, ground preparation (cultivation), planting and maintenance of felled areas including chemical application (insecticide and herbicide), hand weeding, pruning and beating up. This work begins by interacting with your client, assessing sites and drawing up budgets and cash flows for the proposed works.

Once your budgeted items have been discussed and approved, the fun can start! Sourcing suitable materials or plants, lining up contractors to do the work as well as ensuring that the site is ready by identifying hazards and constraints. Ensuring that everything is coordinated and that your deadline is met can be a bit hectic at times, but there is never a dull moment and no day is the same as the last.

Once the project has begun it is the responsibility of the forest manager to ensure that the quality of the work is of the highest standard. This involves visiting the sites whilst the work is in progress to assess the contractor’s ability to meet your specification, ensure all work is being under taken in a safe manner and that there is no impact on the natural environment (birds, animals and water to name a few).

A few of my favourite aspects of the job are carrying out wildlife assessments before harvesting commences and mapping and designing new planting and restocking designs. Wildlife assessments are essential, as they allow us to identify any species that require protection under law. This is done by walking through the standing timber and identifying any sign or presence of protected species. Most commonly we identify breeding birds, badgers and red squirrels by looking for nests, setts and dreys, as well as looking for signs of digging, scratching, feeding or scat/droppings.

Mapping and forest design has always been of interest to me as it allows some creativity to creep into the job role. Recently I have undertaken various designs for new woodlands that meet the requirements of the land owner, authorities, landscape architect, local individuals and wildlife. At times it can be challenging to meet the demands of all parties involved, but on reflection a little compromise here and there goes a long way to ensuring that the relationship with those you will inevitably have to deal with again in the future is maintained.

I hope that has given some insight into the life of a forester, and perhaps even inspired you to consider a career in Forestry.

Byron Braithwaite
Forest Manager
Central Borders