Kerstin Leslie, forest manager at Tilhill Forestry, recently competed in the annual Forest Products Challenge. She told us about her career journey to date, how she’s working towards becoming a chartered forester and what the future has in store for the industry.
How did you land your current job?
I became interested in working for Tilhill Forestry after meeting one of the company’s ecologists. He told me about his role, including supporting woodland creation applications and advising on protected species. After completing my Masters in Environmental Forestry I applied to Tilhill’s graduate scheme and joined the company as an assistant forest manager.
Do you have any tips for people about to embark in your field on how to make a success out of their careers in sustainability?
Any kind of practical experience gives you a head start, volunteer to plant trees or take up the opportunity of a placement year if it’s an option. Joining Confor (Confederation of Forest Industries) is a great way to keep up to date with current issues and their regional meetings are an opportunity to meet people.
Who have been your role-models in your career?
At Tilhill I was lucky to be assigned a very knowledgeable line manager and have always been grateful for his patience in training me. Looking at the forest industry as a whole it’s great to see women like Jo O’Hara, head of Forestry Commission Scotland, promoting the sector.
What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way?
It would have been beneficial to come into my role with some basic knowledge of business and financial management. However, in the end it just meant that I learnt on the job.
What stages of your career have been the most challenging?
Being promoted to forest manager and taking responsibility for my own portfolio of forest properties was a big step up. It was made much easier by support from the rest of the team.
The most rewarding?
Finishing my first woodland creation project gave me a big sense of achievement. It’s great to be able to drive along the road and see something in the landscape which you have helped make possible.
What is key to getting the most out of your team/colleagues?
Ask for help - chances are someone else has been there before, no point in reinventing the wheel.
What have been the ground breaking instances or milestones in the sustainability field that have really changed the way you have to work? And how did you adapt to these events?
Over the last few years Tilhill have developed a much closer relationship with the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency, including running training courses together on pollution prevention. This has made it much easier for Forest Managers to engage with SEPA and take actions to improve water quality.
What qualifications have been necessary/most beneficial in your career?
Having a BSc in Ecology gave me a good background but doing an MSc in Environmental Forestry gave me knowledge more specific to my career. Choosing to do a BSc or HND in Forestry would also be an ideal place to start.
Have you had much continuing professional development, has this been useful?
I’ve had lots of opportunities for training in my job, including Tilhill’s Graduate Development Programme. This has helped me to keep working towards becoming a chartered forester.
Could you sum up, in one sentence, what has changed in the industry since you first began your job?
The threat from tree pests & diseases is no longer just something we talk about but something we are having to deal with on a daily basis.
What does the future have in store for your industry – choppy waters ahead? Or a fruitful and secure future?
Looking forwards, there is a big opportunity to increase woodland creation to meet government targets for carbon sequestration. The challenge we face is rationalising the overly bureaucratic approval process for new planting schemes, in order to get more trees in the ground.