Recently I attended the dinner and awards of Confederation of Forest Industries – Confor, where the UK forestry and timber supply chain meet and recognise their achievements.
This is the seventh year I’ve attended the event, and over that time, it has transformed.
When I joined the sector as Confor’s Policy Researcher, women were a tiny minority, and most attendees had worked in forestry for decades. Personally, I loved it: it was, and remains, an immense privilege to learn from these wise old hands, many of whom ‘came up from the tools’, so different to my own urban and academic path. They welcomed me warmly into their world and are unfailingly generous with their knowledge and experience. Yet many of us that year – both women and old hands – felt that it was time for change.
And change they have. Larger venues were found, and women and younger foresters positively encouraged to attend. The one ‘Confor award for dedicated service to forestry’ has been supplemented by a growing suite of awards: ‘changing attitudes’, ‘future leader’, ‘innovation and research’, ‘net zero’, and the new Institute of Chartered Foresters award, ‘Professional Forester of the Year’. These bring a fresh, young, innovative, diverse and professionalised group of people to the dinner and onto the stage.
I played a small part in the transformation. A year or two after that first dinner, I borrowed the guest list and invited the growing minority of women to a pre-dinner drink in the pub round the corner. This allowed us to talk amongst ourselves freely, exchange experiences, and give one another confidence. Most women in forestry enjoy working in a male-dominated workplace, but it is also a novel and refreshing experience to be in an all-women group. By popular request, my unofficial women’s drinks was repeated the following year, and has now become an official part of the proceedings.
At my first dinner, the ‘old hand’ I sat next to was in fact a woman: Dr Jean Balfour, an inspirational figure and a pioneer in UK forestry. At this year’s dinner, her death at 96 was announced. Her spirit lives on in the pioneering, transformational women and men in the close-knit forestry family.
Her later years reflect the seismic change in forestry from one where a woman had to fight for acceptance, to one where they are welcomed into a diverse and like-minded community. The profession is a key part of climate and biodiversity agenda, attracting a younger generation closely focused on the environment and related policy – a place where they can make a positive difference.
This inward change has been given increased impetus by the growing priority of carbon and biodiversity in society. Something I value about working at Galbraith is that forestry is one specialism amongst many, and we are able to integrate land uses and exchange knowledge. Recently I have heard several senior land agents remark that they were discouraged from their youthful interest in forestry because it was an old-fashioned, low-value, single-issue land use; yet now it is now vibrant, valuable, and vital to a wide range of objectives. Whether the question is water management, carbon sequestration, biodiversity gain, income diversification, or even food production, trees are the answer. They are enjoying being able to follow their interest at last and are increasingly calling on the forestry team for advice and support.
Galbraith are currently recruiting for several forestry roles. Whether you’re an experienced forester looking to develop integrated land use approaches, a recent graduate, or a career-changer attracted to this exciting industry, check out our recruitment page. Don’t hesitate to contact myself or any of the team if you are interested in working with us.
You can read more about the Confor dinner and awards here.
- Natural Capital: The expert advisers at Galbraith guide our clients in realising value in all land uses – by assessing and measuring natural assets, furthering opportunities in biodiversity net gain, and ensuring stakeholders are rewarded fully for their investment in and contribution to delivering ecosystem services and net-zero outcomes.