Forest Officer

The Job and What's Involved

Forest officers, or foresters or woodland managers as they are also known, are responsible for planning and directing activities that develop and protect forest environments.

Along with overseeing the ecological conservation and recreational use of forests, they also manage the commercial side of forests to make sure they are economically viable. This may involve ensuring visitors are catered for and can access woodlands without risk to conservation and the forest's wildlife.

Forest officers plan annual forestry work programmes, supervising the daily activities of forest workers who carry out the practical work. The commercial aspects of their job may involve:

  • Advising woodland owners on good forestry practice.
  • Advising on forestry grants and forest certification.
  • Valuing and purchasing woodland.
  • Advising on planting and suitable tree species.
  • Managing the planting, harvesting, marketing and sale of timber.
  • Negotiating contract terms and appointing forest worker sub-contractors.
  • Monitoring budgets and preparing financial forecasts.

As part of their job to protect and restore woodland areas, including wildlife and natural habitats, forest officers may take responsibility for:

  • Site surveys, as well as anticipating future ecological developments.
  • Ensuring there is no illegal felling of trees.
  • Identifying and addressing potentially harmful pests and diseases.
  • The impact of forests on nearby environments, such as water supplies.

Forest officers may supervise a team of forestry workers. They are responsible for co-ordinating resources, training and communications with staff. They are also likely to liaise with neighbouring landowners, timber merchants, local authorities, members of the public and professionals, such as landscape architects, biologists and engineers.

Forest officers employed by the Forestry Commission are normally contracted to work 42 hours a week. Local authority forest officers typically work about 37 hours a week. Forest officers may have to work overtime on occasion, including evenings and weekends. Part-time, contract work and self-employment is possible.

Forest officers combine office work with inspecting woodland areas on foot, in all weather conditions.

Some jobs are in remote areas. Local travel is likely, so a driving licence may be useful. Forest officers may occasionally be required to stay away from home. Overseas work is possible with some large, multinational employers.

The work may not be suitable for people with hay fever.

Starting salaries may range from around £16,000 to £21,000 a year. Salaries in the private sector vary widely. Some private estate jobs include accommodation and transportation.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Around 30,000 people are employed in the UK tree and timber industry. Job opportunities for experienced forest managers are expected to increase. Competition for most vacancies is high.

The largest employer is the Forestry Commission. Private estates, local authorities, conservation organisations and charities, government agencies and forest management companies also employ forest officers. Most forest officer jobs are found in rural locations with large forested areas.

Organisations such as the National Trust, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV) and local wildlife trusts welcome volunteers. Lists of organisations, voluntary environmental projects and jobs are advertised on www.countryside-jobs.com. Job vacancies are advertised in national and regional newspapers, and local Jobcentre Plus offices. The Forestry Commission publishes vacancies on its website, www.forestry.gov.uk.

Education and Training

Most direct entrants to forest management jobs are graduates, or they have a forestry qualification. Relevant degree subjects include forestry, land or estate management, horticulture, environmental science, geography and ecology.

The Forestry Commission normally requires entrants to have qualifications specifically in forestry, such as a:

BTEC HND in Forestry - Entry is usually with at least one A level/two H grades, a BTEC National Award, Certificate or Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture, or equivalent qualifications.

Degree in Forestry - Entry is usually with at least two A levels/three H grades (often including sciences or maths), and five GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), normally including English, maths and science. Alternative qualifications may be accepted, and applicants should check specific requirements with individual universities. Full-time courses last three or four years.

Many forestry courses include a practical work placement.

Entrants with a non-relevant degree or HND may need a postgraduate diploma or Masters degree in forestry or a related subject. Relevant postgraduate courses are available at a number of universities. Entry is usually with a first degree in forestry, biology or a related subject.

It is also possible to start in a more junior post and progress to the position of forest officer. Qualifications, such as the National Diploma in Forestry offered by the Central Forestry Examination Board and the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), are normally required in order to progress. Internal promotion from forest worker may also be possible with an NVQ/SVQ in Treework at Level 3.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Most large employers provide practical, structured training. The Forestry Commission offers internal courses in people management, IT and traditional forest management.

After gaining at least two years' approved experience, forest officers can take the ICF's examinations and achieve chartered forester status. Part of the assessment involves producing a portfolio of work and passing a professional interview.

A chartered forester is required to undertake a minimum of 100 hours of Continuing Professional Development over a three-year period. This can include attending conferences and discussion groups, lecturing or publishing a technical paper.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

A forest officer needs:

  • Excellent leadership and communication skills.
  • Confidence to lead negotiations.
  • An awareness of environmental issues.
  • Good research and analytical ability.
  • A strong scientific background.
  • A practical approach.
  • To be capable of planning and organising multiple assignments.
  • To be confident managing long-term projects.
  • A high level of physically fitness.
  • Good IT knowledge and numeracy skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects vary. Moving to different geographic locations may be necessary to demonstrate a broad range of experience to employers.

Forest officers could potentially specialise in a more scientific, research-based job or take on wider management responsibilities. Chartered status may be required for progression.

Some experienced forest officers become self-employed, and offer consultancy services.

There may be overseas opportunities with large multinational companies, particularly in Europe, North America and New Zealand.

Get Further Information

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

Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF),
7A St Colme Street, Edinburgh EH3 6AA
Tel: 0131 225 2705
Website: www.charteredforesters.org

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996
Websites: www.lantra.co.uk, www.ajobin.com and www.afuturein.com

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

Royal Scottish Forestry Society
Website: www.rsfs.org

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