Women are branching out in forestry industry

Kate Sheppard.

Kate Sheppard.

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How does a young woman from Brighton find herself in the midst of the Scottish forestry industry - and carving out a successful career in what has traditionally been a very male-dominated sector?

This is just one of the questions being put to Kate Sheppard, a forestry consultant with Bidwells in Fort William on tonight during the Forestry Commission Scotland reception at the Scottish Parliament.

Kate will be one of a number of people to be questioned at the event from within the world of forestry, whose lives and businesses are part of this broad and successful sector.

The theme will be the recently published report – The Economic Contribution of the Forestry Sector in Scotland - and the key note speaker will be Dr Aileen McLeod, Minister for Environment, Climate Change and Land Reform.

Kate graduated from the University of the West of England with a degree in environmental science and knew from that point that she wanted to work outdoors.

Following a chance conversation with a family friend who was visiting from Scotland, she learnt about the Lantra apprenticeship scheme in trees and timber.

It took her two application attempts to get to interview stage and two interviews before she was eventually taken on as an apprentice in west Argyll.

READ MORE: Forestry in Scotland now a billion pound industry

But that determination has stood Kate in good stead and in 2011 she was awarded the Lantra Trees and Timber Learner of the Year Award.

From there she developed her career to become a beat forester with Forest Enterprise Scotland in the Scottish lowlands, managing a range of practical activities including planting, harvesting and thinning programmes.

She then took up the position of harvesting manager with Euroforest in Lochaber where she managed all stages of the timber process from the forest to the mill.

Now with Bidwells, her role involves managing and advising private landowners on their forestry holdings, tendering timber sale, writing forest plans and managing forest planting operations.

“Despite women’s strong heritage within the industry – think of the Lumber Jills during both World Wars - today forestry remains a largely male dominated industry.

“However, women considering a career in forestry should not be swayed either by statistics or stereotypes. The fact remains that forestry provides excellent career opportunities for both men and women in Scotland.

“As with any industry you have to be very determined and driven to achieve your goals. The sector is small and there are limited paths to get into it. On the plus side once you’re in and you have experience there are lots of diverse opportunities. I have always loved the operational and commercial side of forestry but there are many other roles within the industry.”

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