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Forest Worker

Forest workers care for and manage woodland areas and forests. They play an important part in protecting ecological and animal habitats and enhancing the future landscape of the UK.

The job involves carrying out practical activities to establish, maintain and preserve forested areas. Duties usually include:

  • conducting forest surveys and assessing tree density
  • carrying out tree safety inspections, marking and measuring trees to be cut down
  • doing general groundwork to clear sites and undergrowth
  • planting new tree seedlings and providing nutrients to plants
  • digging or installing more efficient drainage systems.

Forest workers typically work standard hours, Monday to Friday, although some overtime and weekend work may be necessary. Work can be seasonal and longer days may be necessary during peak times. They spend most of their time working outdoors in all weather conditions. The work can be physically challenging and potentially hazardous, requiring the use of power tools and heavy machinery.

Forest workers may earn between £13,697 and £23,500 a year.

A forest worker should be:

  • responsible and safety conscious
  • team focused, but also confident working independently
  • courteous and professional
  • interested in the environment.

The UK tree and timber industry employs around 22,500 people, many as forest workers. The largest employer is the Forestry Commission. Private estates, local authorities, conservation organisations and charities, government agencies and forest management companies also employ forest workers. Most jobs are found in rural locations. Around 50 per cent of forest workers are self-employed.

There are no set academic qualifications required, although GCSEs in English, science and maths are useful. It may also be possible to enter this career through an Apprenticeship programme.

The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies is also an advantageous qualification to have achieved prior to employment, an Apprenticeship or further study.

Forest workers are encouraged to gain technical and professional qualifications for operating forest tools and machinery. These include a Level 3 NVQ in tree work and Level 2 Certificates of Competence in chainsaw and related operations.

With large employers, such as the Forestry Commission, it may be possible to progress to senior forest worker or works supervisor. Many experienced forest workers become self-employed and contract out their services. With further qualifications, it may be possible to advance to forest officer level.

What is the work like?

Forest workers care for and manage woodland areas and forests. They play an important part in protecting ecological and animal habitats and enhancing the future landscape of the UK.

The job involves carrying out practical activities to establish, maintain and preserve forested areas, which may involve:

  • conducting forest surveys and assessing tree density
  • carrying out tree safety inspections, marking and measuring trees to be cut down
  • doing general groundwork to clear sites and undergrowth
  • planting new tree seedlings
  • digging or installing more efficient drainage systems
  • pruning and cutting back shrubs and other ground cover to promote the healthy growth of trees
  • using specialist tools to fell trees for improved access for operations and recreation and to thin out densely wooded areas
  • harvesting trees, stripping branches and cutting felled tree trunks into specific lengths
  • protecting the forest against insects and disease, particularly young trees
  • clearing footpaths and nature trails and maintaining adjoining car parks
  • removing debris and litter.

To maintain recreational sites and enhance woodland areas for public use, forest workers may be required to erect fences and gates and install footpath signs and public information notices. They may also assist in tackling forest fires and are often responsible for checking and maintaining basic firefighting equipment located near wooded areas.

Forest workers are sometimes known by different titles; for example, in the Forestry Commission the job title is forest craftsperson.

Hours and environment

Forest workers typically work standard hours Monday to Friday, although some overtime and weekend work may be necessary. Part-time and casual work is possible. Work can be seasonal and longer days may be necessary during peak times.

Forest workers spend most of their time working outdoors in all weather conditions. The work can be physically challenging, with lots of lifting, climbing and walking through densely wooded areas.

It is potentially hazardous work, requiring the use of power tools and heavy machinery. Protective clothing, such as hard hats, goggles, boots and specialist clothing may need to be worn for certain tasks. Harnesses are used for climbing trees.

A driving licence may be required.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Apprentice starting salaries with the Forestry Commission may be about £13,697 a year.
  • With some experience, a forest worker may earn around £18,000 a year.
  • A Forestry Commission works supervisor may earn between £19,000 and £23,500.

Skills and personal qualities

A forest worker should be:

  • responsible and aware of health and safety issues
  • team focused, but also confident working independently
  • tactful when dealing with members of the public and enforcing bylaws and regulations
  • resourceful and mechanically minded
  • well organised
  • persistent and good at solving problems
  • self-motivated
  • willing to work in all sorts of weather conditions.

Interests

It is important to:

  • be interested in the environment
  • enjoy practical work
  • like working outdoors.

Getting in

The UK tree and timber industry employs around 22,500 people, many as forest workers. The largest employer is the Forestry Commission. Private estates, local authorities, conservation organisations and charities, government agencies and forest management companies also employ forest workers. Most jobs are found in rural locations with large forested areas.

While there is strong competition for jobs, demand for new entrants is constant. Around 50 per cent of forest workers are self-employed. They are normally hired for specific contracts, such as planting or felling trees. Contracts are often short term, typically lasting about three months.

Organisations such as the Woodland Trust, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and local wildlife trusts welcome volunteers. Lists of organisations, voluntary environmental projects and jobs are advertised on the Countryside Jobs Service website. Job vacancies are advertised in national and regional newspapers and in local Jobcentre Plus offices. The Forestry Commission publishes vacancies on its website and the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) lists vacancies in its Quarterly Journal of Forestry.

Entry routes

There are no set academic qualifications required, although GCSEs in English, science and maths are useful.

The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies is also a useful qualification to have achieved prior to employment, an Apprenticeship or further training.

There are forestry sector courses available, including:

  • BTEC Introductory Diploma in land and environment
  • BTEC National Award, Certificate or Diploma in forestry and arboriculture
  • NPTC Level 2 Certificate and Level 3 Diploma in forestry and arboriculture
  • ABC Level 1 Award/Certificate in practical environmental and conservation skills
  • ABC Level 2 Certificate in practical environmental studies
  • Lantra Awards Level 2 Certificate in land-based activities.

Some colleges may require one year's work experience and academic entry requirements vary, so applicants should check with individual institutions.

It may also be possible to enter this career through an Apprenticeship programme in trees and timber.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 per week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available on the Apprenticeship page on this website, from a Connexions personal adviser or at www.apprenticeships.org.uk

Training

Forest workers are encouraged to gain technical and professional qualifications for operating forest tools and machinery. These include:

  • Level 3 NVQ in tree work
  • Level 2 Certificates of Competence in chainsaw and related operations, all terrain vehicle handling or forest machine operations.

Getting on

Promotional prospects vary. With large employers, such as the Forestry Commission, it may be possible to progress to senior forest worker or works supervisor. Forest workers with smaller organisations may have to change location or employer in order to progress.

Many experienced forest workers become self-employed and contract out their services. With further qualifications, it may be possible to advance to forest officer level.

Opportunities may arise to become a forest ranger with the Forestry Commission or with a private forestry body. Forest rangers work with wardens or conservation officers to look after wildlife.

Further information

The Arboricultural Association, Ullenwood Court, Ullenwood, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL53 9QS. 01242 522152. Website www.trees.org.uk

Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), Sedum House, Mallard Way, Doncaster DN4 8DB. 01302 388883. Website http://www.tcv.org.uk/

Countryside Jobs Service, The Moorlands, Goathland, Whitby, North Yorkshire YO22 5LZ. 01947 896007. Website: www.countryside-jobs.com

Forestry Commission, 231 Corstorphine Road, Edinburgh EH12 7AT. 0131 334 0303. Website: www.forestry.gov.uk

GROW Your Own Career in Horticulture. 0845 707 8007. Website: www.growcareers.info

Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), 59 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2JG. 0131 240 1425. Website: www.charteredforesters.org

Landex. Website: www.landex.org.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG. 0845 707 8007. Websites: www.lantra.co.uk and www.lantracoursefinder.co.uk and for careers information visit www.afuturein.com

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS), 102 High Street, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 4AF. 01442 822028. Website: www.rfs.org.uk

Woodland Trust. 01476 581111. Website: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk

 Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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