Britain ‘s forests and woodlands provide employment for a wide variety of people – from rangers and foresters to machine operators and engineers. What opportunit ies could they hold for you?

The forestry sector is changing. Whereas once it was all about growing trees for timber, nowadays we recognise that the nation’s forests and woodlands provide a varied range of benefits for people and the environment. As the Royal Forestry Society put it: “Timber production still underpins forestry practices but at all levels the forestry staff’s remit is broader than ever. Woods and forests are managed to offer multiple benefits for people, wildlife and the environment in general. They can provide havens for wildlife, screening and landscape enhancement, air filters and carbon sinks and cater for many types of recreation.”

So who is responsible for managing these natural resources? According to Lantra – the Sector Skills Council for the environmental and land-based sector – the UK trees and timber industry is made up of around 6,200 businesses employing a total of 31,300 people. Many of these workers are self-employed contractors; others work for private estates, forest management companies, timber harvesting businesses and the wood processing industry. Around 3,000 people work for the Forestry Commission – the government department responsible for protecting and expanding Britain’s forests and woodlands – which is made up of three separate administrations in England, Scotland and Wales.

In the 21st century, the forestry sector needs workers with a diverse range of skills. Mechanics and engineers are required to maintain vehicles and the equipment that is used to fell and harvest trees, and machine operators and drivers are needed to operate them. There are also opportunities for civil engineers, surveyors, scientists and administrative staff, as well as the trained foresters and rangers who specialise in protecting and managing the forest environment.

Foresters are responsible for the planning, planting, management and maintenance of forests. This is a profession that provides opportunities at various levels: while forest managers are expected to have a university degree or equivalent, forestry workers and craftspeople do not necessarily need any academic qualifications. Their job typically involves planting trees, building roads, repairing fences and harvesting timber, although the role can vary depending on employer and location. Many people working at this level are self-employed. They are often supervised by foremen or forestry supervisors, who ensure that forest managers’ instructions are efficiently and accurately carried out.

Another job that provides hands-on outdoor-based opportunities is rangering. Broadly speaking, the ranger’s task is to protect forests and woodlands, but individual rangers’ jobs can vary – from wildlife rangers who conserve endangered species and control pests (erecting fences or shooting deer, for example), to community rangers and education rangers, who teach the public about the forest and promote interaction.

Stephen Gray is an HR Manager at the Forestry Commission and told us that his organization is increasingly looking for people with community and education experience, as forestry becomes less concentrated on the timber industry and more concerned with opening woods up for people to enjoy.

It’s q uite common for people with an interest in forestry to enter the profession at ranger level but, as Stephen explains, these jobs are in high demand and so it can be helpful to gain work experience first: “We very often see people who start as volunteers – either with the Commission or another organisation – and from there go on to get a seasonal job and then a full-time job. That won’t necessarily suit someone coming from the military, because you may not want to have to work for six months as a volunteer. But don’t be put off applying for this sort of employment. We’re always looking for people who are good at working in teams, and that’s obviously the way in the military. We also look for people who are leaders.

“Our average job specification would cover things like problem solving, customer relations and the ability to represent your organisation. Once again, that’s something that people with a military background would be good at.”

Some forest-based careers require very specific qualifications – for example, mechanical engineers will usually be expected to have a BTEC, S/NVQ or equivalent – but the Forestry Commission recruits at varying levels: “We recruit experienced professionals but we also take on apprentices. If someone’s done three or four years in the military and wants to move into something else, an apprenticeship might be for them.”

As in any sector, salaries in forestry vary according to experience and the responsibilities you’re expected to take on. There can also be variation between the public and private sector but, as a guide, rangers might expect to earn between £12k and £18k a year, while a mechanic could earn £16-£18k and a workshop foreman £18-£24k – a similar salary to a professional forester.

One area of this industry that’s currently offering good money is harvesting. The private forestry sector is experiencing a shortage of people with the skills to operate harvesting and forwarding machines and, as a result, this is a job that can command a rewarding salary. So if you’re interested in applying your Forces-honed machine operation skills in a civilian setting, you might want to look into the opportunities here.

With all the different jobs on offer, it’s worth giv ing some thought as to whether a forest- based career could be for you – what ever your previous experience. If you’re looking for a job that will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you’re helping other people and the environment, then you could do a lot worse. Britain’s forests are pretty amazing places.


Arboricultural Association
01794 368 717

Confederation of Forest Industries
0131 524 8080

Forestry Commission
0845 3673787

Institute of Chartered Foresters
0131 225 2705

024 7669 6996

Royal Forestry Society
01442 822028

Royal Scottish Forestry Society
01387 371518