From Physical Geography Graduate to Director: How I Got Here

Director at Forest of Mercia CIC, Kathryn Lane, answers our questions about how her career led to her current leadership position in one of England's 15 community forests.

By Kathryn Lane · June 13, 2024

What’s your current role?

Forest of Mercia CIC is one of 15 of England’s Community forests. We offer tree planting grants and environmental education across Staffordshire and the Black Country.

As a director my role is very varied. We are currently working with DEFRA on their Trees For Climate tree planting scheme. This forms a part of their Nature for Climate programme.

An average day can vary from visiting landowners, drawing up planting plans & shapefiles, arranging permissions, working with the Forestry Commission to check we are planting the right trees in the right place and also physically planting & maintaining trees or managing contractors to do this for us.

We also provide outdoor education so this can involve talks with local community groups, school visits and running practical courses. We like to demonstrate the uses of wood so offer courses in greenwood skills such as pole lathe, whittling and my personal favourite, basketry.

As a community interest company Forest of Mercia CIC has a strong focus on working with the community to get them involved and engaged in the environment. We are based at our outdoor education centre called Hilton Green and some of my time is spent looking after the site. I can’t do this alone so run a weekly volunteer group who help. Our volunteers have a great community spirit and are always the highlight of my week.

Most people think I spend all of my time outdoors but unfortunately this isn’t true. As a director I have a lot of responsibilities and office-based admin such as writing reports, marketing and accounting. All of which are essential to keep the business going.

Did you always want to work in the forestry sector?

No, when I was younger, I wanted to be a Ballet dancer or a Vet.

As a child my whole family was very outdoorsy. My grandad and great uncle used to show flowers and my parents were also keen gardeners. My dad was a keen fisherman and wildlife enthusiast, so all of this rubbed off on me. I always knew I needed to be outdoors and not cooped up in an office, I just wasn’t entirely sure what exactly it was that I wanted to do.

What did you study?

At school there were very limited options to choose from that were environment based. My options were Geography or Biology. Both of these classes ran at the same time, so I had to choose between them. I chose Geography, mainly for the field trips! I also studied graphic design which has come in handy for my greenwood craft work and tree planting plans. I went on to study Physical Geography at University as I preferred the more environmental side of the subject to the human geography side of things.

What was your first job?

When I was a student, I had a part time catering job. I then worked in a farm shop alongside volunteering to gain some experience in the environment sector.

How did you get into forestry?

The week I graduated from university I applied to volunteer at Cannock Chase Forest. They got back to me and said that Forest of Mercia were setting up a children’s environmental themed stay and play group (similar to forest schools these days) and asked if I would be interested in helping them out. I said yes and volunteered with them once a week for 9 years. Gradually joining them on different projects from conservation work to assisting with craft courses. Eventually a vacancy came up in the company. I applied for the role and have now been a director for 5 years.

What do you love about your current role?

I enjoy being my own boss (most of the time!) and being in the position to help other young people like me get into the environment sector.

I get to work outdoors and see amazing sights and wildlife that I otherwise wouldn’t. All whilst making a difference, to not only improve the local landscape but also an attempt to tackle the climate emergency. From planting trees to fix carbon to educating the community about the importance of the environment and how to look after it.

What one thing would you tell your younger self starting out?

Even if you don’t know what you want to do for a career, study the things you enjoy.

Most of your life will be spent at work. Do something you enjoy.

I would also highly recommend volunteering to any young person starting out. It’s good to gain experience and literally everyone I have ever met in the environment sector started as a volunteer.