Forestry education and learning - building your career

Logo: Royal Forestry Society

Education and learning are the crucial building blocks to any successful forestry or countryside career.

Arboriculture in Action  (Royal Forestry Society)
Arboriculture in Action (Royal Forestry Society)

In an increasingly computer-based world, forestry is one of the last remaining professions where at all career levels, both a practical and a theoretical understanding hold equal importance and both are often a necessity.

As an expanding UK wide sector, forestry offers one of the most exciting and diverse career opportunities out there, covering everything from ecological surveying & GIS, mechanical engineering and drone operatives, to robotics R&D, civil engineering and woodland establishment specialists.

Careers in forestry have entry routes at all educational levels, from school leavers/FE, apprenticeships (trailblazer scheme) to Bachelors, Masters degrees and beyond.

Increasingly the forestry and arb sectors are attracting professionals from many other fields as career transitions. This is due, in part, to the flexibility and resilience of UK forestry and an increased understanding that forestry investment and better management now can help bring about financial stability for the forestry sector as well as carbon sequestration and other environmental and societal benefits in the long run.

RFS intern Francis Hepburne Scott checking tree rings  match existing stand data at Hockeridge  (Royal Forestry Society)
RFS intern Francis Hepburne Scott checking tree rings match existing stand data at Hockeridge (Royal Forestry Society)

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) supports the forestry and arboriculture sectors at all levels, with a suite of theoretical qualifications, short field based training courses covering topics such as mensuration and tree ID, 80+ unique woodland visits a year providing a wealth of opportunity for informal CPD and a supporting online woodland management resource ‘the knowledge hub’. The highly regarded Quarterly Journal of Forestry is published and sent to members four times a year, this includes scientific reports, articles and case studies from across the forestry world as well as the latest news and developments. The most recent Journal (Vol. 111, No.4) has guest articles covering the creation of forestry inventory methods in Hungary, a study into White Elm species suitability in the UK and a feature on the fate of an amenity woodland planting post establishment.

The “RFS/ABC Level 2 in Arboriculture” is the flagship course, popular with a wide demographic, from those wishing to transition to the sector and gain a better understanding of tree biology, to operational personnel upskilling themselves and   to new woodland owners increasing their understanding of their trees and woods.

Designed to be a comprehensive introduction to forestry, trees and the wider industry, the RFS/ABC Level 2 has a wide choice of modules to study, from ‘Tree inspections and Statute and Common Law Applied to Trees’ to ‘Silviculture’ and ‘Principles of Woodlands, Forestry and Ecology’.

During 2018, the RFS intends to increase its qualifications portfolio with an RFS accredited distance learning short course in partnership with the Horticultural Correspondence College, designed to incorporate the main points of woodland management and introduce the user to woodland terms and principles that they will be able to use day to day. We are anticipating this will be popular amongst new woodland owners and people with an interest in forests and woodland at a non-professional level.

In one form or another, RFS Certification has been present in the industry for 100 years and is recognised as a sign of practical excellence. Regularly updated to reflect best practice, RFS Certification remains as relevant today as it was when first introduced.

500th Cert Arb presented to Northern Ireland's Laurence Christie  (Royal Forestry Society)
500th Cert Arb presented to Northern Ireland's Laurence Christie (Royal Forestry Society)

There has been an increase of around 15% uptake in forestry graduate qualifications in the past 30 years (Eurostat, 2010). However, for many reasons, not everyone in the sector that wishes to further their career will want to potentially take time off of work and attend university for accreditation.

The Royal Forestry Society offers another route for professional Certification in Forestry and Arboriculture. Designed to recognise the practical qualifications and ongoing training at all levels in forestry, the RFS Certification in Forestry/Arboriculture (RFS Cert. For, RFS Cert. Arb) is a post-nominal award that is attained by submitting a portfolio of supporting theory and practical qualifications.

To currently qualify for the certification, you must hold a combination of 8 practical forestry/arb modules, including 4 compulsories (CS30/31 & Woodchipper) and a recognised Level 2 or higher theory qualification in forestry or arboriculture. As an equivalency standard, we benchmark the theoretical requirement from our own Level 2 in arboriculture.

In short, there are 5 key points to being successful in achieving in your dream forestry or arboriculture career.

  • theoretical understanding
  • practical ability/understanding
  • a love of the outdoors
  • continuing development and membership of professional bodies (RFS, ICF, Confor)
  • and a driving licence!
Adam Todd, RFS Future  Foresters Officer  (Royal Forestry Society)
Adam Todd, RFS Future Foresters Officer (Royal Forestry Society)

Getting your career to where you want it to be can be a challenging journey. Perseverance, commitment, passion and engagement with the sector and its people will be your key tools.

The RFS, on behalf of the sector, hosts the online “Forestry Careers Guide”. Follow the link to view videos and information explaining the different entry routes into the sector, tips on careers, links to places to study, information on bursaries and internships and much more, the guide is updated regularly with course information and developments in the industry.

About the author
Adam Todd is the Royal Forestry Society’s Future Foresters Project Officer. He takes the lead on a number of its ground breaking projects, delivering educational outreach to FE and HE students as well as managing the online Forestry and Arboriculture Careers Guide hosted by RFS, on behalf of the Forestry Learning and Development Working Group.
Adam manages the RFS suite of student bursaries and awards as well as revising and managing the popular RFS Certification scheme. He holds a BSc(Hons) in Forest and Woodland Management from the National School of Forestry of Cumbria, has an interest in resilience and forest pest control and is a qualified arborist.

First published in CJS Focus on Forestry & Arboriculture in association with Ancient Tree Forum on 20 November 2017