My first month as Assistant Forest Manager

The Government’s targets for tree planting are ambitious and the strategic importance of woodland and forest management, the use of the best quality planting stock and engaging young foresters in the sector are becoming ever more critical.

By James Cryer · October 1, 2020

My first month as an Assistant Forest Manager

My first month as an Assistant Forest Manager has been extremely engaging. Since starting in September, I have gained a real insight into the day-to-day workings of a modern forest manager in Southern England, covering a broad range of skills and approaches needed to achieve successful multi-purpose forestry. Perhaps my favourite aspect so far has been conducting surveys of local ancient semi-natural woodland. As well as the pleasure of spending time outdoors, the survey approach is always interesting and akin to detective work. It has given me a set thought process when I set foot into a woodland: what’s there? (e.g. species, form, condition, habitat, soil, features, access), what’s happened? (e.g. past interventions, succession) and what’s next? (e.g. thinning, beating-up). Having been told we will shortly be preparing management plans for various estates, I am looking forward to seeing the development of the planning process, alongside how the initial survey recommendations translate on-the-ground and the approach to tackling site-specific challenges.

James Cryer and William Hamer conducting surveys

Another enjoyable element has been getting my ‘eye-in’ on the potential for different types of wood products you may expect when looking at a standing crop. It was insightful to see the selective felling of some impressive Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) following the specifications from a local timber framer, as well as the silvicultural justification for the individuals selected. I was also shown an example of a small stand of English Oak (Quercus robur), where a plus tree (dominant, healthy individuals with straight and circular stems, good apical dominance and light branching) had been selected. It was immediately noticeable how the local population had remarkable form and that there was a strong genetic element in the resulting phenotype.

Other activities have included measuring timber at roadside, stack measurements, stand measurement, felling license applications, marking hazardous ash trees for felling, producing maps (GIS), beat-up counts, coppice surveys, deer management planning, liaising with land managers and getting a tour of site operations for the Hampshire Woodfuel Cooperative.

Having recently completed the MSc Environmental and Forest Management at the University of Aberdeen, I am thrilled to have been offered the position of Patsy Wood Scholar. It is promising to see that despite the current pandemic the forestry sector remains strong and I feel privileged to be able to continue learning my craft so soon after finishing. As a young Future Forester, there is a strong emphasis on professional development which is reflected in the generous time and funding allocated to extra training. I am especially intrigued to be learning more about forest genetic resources. This aspect of forestry will become increasingly important under a changing climate, a scenario that presents additional challenges for British woodlands and their prospective managers, such as the introduction of novel pests and diseases and the demand for trees to yield efficient, productive growth. That being said, it was great to meet Joe Beesley from the Future Trees Trust (who also recently entered the forestry industry) and to hear of his positive experience working on hardwood tree improvement.

Overall, my (short but eventful) time in forestry so far has confirmed this is the career path for me. As well as a great balance between the office and outdoors, there is always something new to learn! I would urge any current students of forestry to have a look at the opportunities available through the Royal Forestry Society and other professional bodies – Covid-19 aside, it seems like a great time for graduates to be entering the industry.

James Cryer

Patsy Wood Scholar

Tree improvement charity Future Trees Trust with funding from the Patsy Wood Trust and the Royal Forestry Society, are collaborating to deliver the Patsy Wood Scholarship. 

James Cryer, who recently completed an MSc Environmental and Forest Management at the University of Aberdeen, is the second recipient and is working with independent forestry consultant William Hamer working mainly in Hampshire and Berkshire.