'Help make a difference by working in woodland sector', Forestry Conference 2023 hears

Skills, tech and innovation among the themes of this year’s sold-out event, organised by the CLA, Forestry Commission and Grown in Britain
CLA President on stage with Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison
CLA President Mark Tufnell on stage with Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison.

Working in the woodland sector gives the next generation the opportunity to make a difference to the environment and rural economy, the Forestry Conference 2023 heard.

Skills, technology and innovation were among the themes of this year’s sold-out event, organised by the CLA, Forestry Commission and Grown in Britain.

Held at Newbury Racecourse in Berkshire, several conference speakers also spoke of the importance of data in securing the future of the industry, from assisting with natural capital to deer management, while tech can also help make forestry a more diverse employer.

In her keynote speech, Forestry Minister Trudy Harrison argued that trees cannot be planted, or woodlands managed, without people.

She also called for more houses and schools to be built using wood, and said government plans for grey squirrel eradication, deer management and venison consumption would be released shortly.

Fellow keynote speaker Dame Glenys Stacey, chair of the Office for Environmental Protection, told delegates that government recognises the importance of woodland: “Nature is in crisis, and forestry has a crucial role to play.”

On skills, she said planning authorities often lacked access to expertise, which tends to make them more risk averse. She added: “This is a rewarding sector to work in, there is genuine talent but there are skills shortages.”

The point was developed by Christoper Williams, CEO of the Royal Forestry Society, during a session on careers. He argued that forestry is an invisible career choice to some, with a shortfall of new entrants, and called for modules to be taught on all land management courses.

But he added: “There are positive things going on… and we must adapt and promote the positive aspects of forestry, such as the chance to make a difference, for example to protect the environment.”

Engaging with natural capital

There was much focus on the people underpinning the tech and data. Tom Williams, managing director of rural services business Maydencroft, acted as a case study of how employers can recruit and retain a workforce. Mr Williams spoke of how the organisation has created a culture of freedom of flexibility by reducing working hours, and geared its social media towards employees and the benefits of working there.

A number of speakers emphasised how data is being harnessed to drive changes and resilience in the sector. Ben Harrower, owner of BH Wildlife Consultancy, explained how drones were being used for deer management. The use of bulky binoculars 15 years ago has now been replaced with GIS mapping and statistics programmes detecting deer up to 2km away, with data fed into dashboards and apps.

Sir Edward Milbank, owner of the Barningham Estate in North Yorkshire, shared his experiences of engaging with natural capital. He said new markets could be “daunting” but his confidence in them was high, with natural capital set to become the estate’s largest revenue stream within the next couple of years.

He co-founded CSX Carbon along with Andy Howard in 2020, and Mr Howard told delegates that data was being transferred from field to laptop instantly, offering buyers transparency and objectivity. Corporate demand for nature-based solutions is high, he argued, and the sector needs to build confidence and act now to enable woodlands to be ‘net hero’.

The conference was supported by Pryor & Rickett Silviculture.

Next year’s Forestry Conference

We are interested in hearing your feedback – what did you think of this year’s conference? What topics would you like to see covered next year? Are you interested in sponsoring or supporting the next event?

Please email your views to mike.sims@cla.org.uk

Key contact:

Mike Sims Senior Communications Manager (national & south east)