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Appointments: Forestry Commission Scotland in drive to recruit women

Scottish Government backs plan to fund 20 more ‘Lumberjills’

FORESTRY is one of our oldest industries. For centuries, man has been gainfully employed harvesting the product of Scottish woodlands – and now Forestry Commission Scotland believes women should have the same opportunity.

Sounds as if they don’t already, doesn’t it? Or are we to believe that this is really the last bastion of male dominated endeavour, the countryside air thick with the odour of hard masculine toil, unbecoming of demure ladies?

Not quite. Doubtless it is hard work conducted in all weathers, though these days largely accomplished with the aid of powerful hydraulic equipment, industrial saws, specialised vehicles and scientific know-how. Popeye need not apply, at least not on the basis of bulging biceps.

Nevertheless there is an issue, one that the Scottish Government believes is worth throwing an additional £300,000 towards.

That’s the value of an initiative launched by Forestry Commission Scotland at this year’s just closed Royal Highland Show. Both parties want more women to consider the sector as a career.

A programme is already helping to train 82 female employees; another 20 will now be possible. MSPs have sanctioned a variety of schemes to address a problem that has inaccurate perceptions of men-only at its core. This skills programme for young women, with hands-on forestry training, is one of them.

Fewer than a third of the current workforce are female, though with four of the top Scottish forestry-related jobs occupied by women, the public sector element of the industry conversely and arguably – with deployment of some grey area licence – touts the fact as a practical case in smashing the management glass ceiling ambitious women frequently face.

Amanda Bryan is a Forestry Commissioner, Dr Aileen McLeod is the Scottish Environment Minister, Jo O’Hara is Head of Forestry Commission Scotland, and Bridget Campbell is the Director of Scottish Government’s Environment and Forestry Directorate. It’s not clear if any of these women ever trudged a forest track in the middle of a Highland winter – but I’ll willingly correct my facetious tone next week if they tell me they have.
There is already a precedent, albeit set in the depths of the Second World War, where women were involved in arduous tasks such as felling, snedding (stripping the side shoots from branches), loading lorries and trains, and working in sawmills across Scotland. All without modern tools.

For four years until 1946, the Women’s Timber Corps was an operational element of the Women’s Land Army. Earning the title of “Lumberjills”, they replaced the men who had gone to fight.

The gender imbalance is unnecessary, particularly in today’s mechanised environment. Increasing the pool of talent can only be a useful step. And it’s easy to see how this could be satisfying work at all levels for people interested in the outdoors – and catching one of the latest batch of jobs in the new sustainable industries cluster.

To my mind, there were a couple of important omissions from the blurb. Under the informational remit of this column, I am more than content to promote them.

The forestry sector is estimated to be worth more to Scotland’s economy than fishing and maintains 30,000 jobs across wood production, forest management, haulage and processing.

Working in forestry assists renewable energy production (particularly bio-mass), tourism and recreation, conservation and protecting levels of biodiversity, and secures supplies of a natural sustainable construction material. Not to be glib, but you can go to work knowing you are positively contributing to both the economy and the planet’s survival.

The other matter left unmentioned is about how prospective employees to this sector might otherwise acquire relevant knowledge and qualifications.

In the autumn, Inverness College UHI – the largest part of the University of the Highlands and Islands collegiate structure – will open a redeveloped Scottish School of Forestry (SSF) near Balloch.

The investment in new facilities is a measure of the emergence of a call for training and education to meet demand for new job descriptions in forestry and arboriculture. It is the principal institution for special courses in Scotland, up to the award of degree (BSc Sustainable Forest Management).

Its primary focus is to provide grass roots forestry workers who can hit the ground running – giving them the platform from which to progress to higher education and management grade posts. SSF works closely with Forestry Commission Scotland and Scottish Natural Heritage as well as private forestry organisations. The announcement should have mentioned this as a further hook.

Scotland’s forests are the most productive in the UK, according to Forestry Commission Scotland data. Increasing the forest and timber industries’ contribution to the economy has been an aim for more than 15 years. Climate change and carbon footprint awareness gives additional impetus to increase planting and fully harness the wide range of benefits of forest management.

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Women conduct all manner of work that was once imagined to be “a man’s job”, so it’s strange that forestry seems unappealing. All jobs have potential down sides but for the right applicants – even though they don’t possess a campaigning or imaginative streak in pursuit of wider ecosystem harmony – dull days are likely to be confined to weather characteristics.

Perhaps it’s simply a lack of information – in which case, I’m glad to have been of some small assistance.

Article taken from www.heraldscotland.com