Being a training and LOLER manager for Hi-Line is a job that brings with it tremendous variety, and has taken Kirsty McNicol into the woods, into classrooms and even into prisons.

SHOULD you ever happen to see a woman armed with a chainsaw about to enter Dartmoor prison there’s probably no need to panic. Most likely, it’s just Kirsty McNicol arriving to deliver a workshop to prisoners on career opportunities in land-based industries such as forestry and arboriculture.

Inside, Kirsty and her colleague show prisoners how to maintain chainsaws as part of a programme run by the military charity HighGround – all part of their preparation for release to the outside world.

She explained: “For the group, it opens their eyes to the possibilities of careers in forestry and arboriculture. We give information on training, job roles and use the prison gym to demonstrate climbing techniques.

“We do get a few weird looks taking chainsaws into prison, but my career is about training, educating and showing people the range of opportunities available to them. The reaction we get is fantastic. All the groups have been very positive and interested in the workshop we deliver.”

Forestry Journal: Kirsty McNicol.Kirsty McNicol.

Based in the south west, Kirsty works for Hi-Line, one of the UK’s leading arb companies, as its training and LOLER manager, and is part of the firm’s senior management team.

While she admits being addicted to study and gaining new knowledge, she’s equally keen on the variety her role brings, which includes delivering training, producing social media posts, working at shows and exhibitions, giving talks to organisations and schools and developing new courses.

Some days she’s even out on site, feeding the chipper during the tidying up of the woodlands her training team use.

And on top of all that, she’s often out shopping for large amounts of fake blood and other weird items for her training team’s forestry and arb-focussed first-aid courses, which are practical and usually woodland-based.

Forestry Journal: Kirsty demonstrates some spoon-whittling techniques.Kirsty demonstrates some spoon-whittling techniques.

Asked what appeals to her about the forestry and arb industry, she said: “Working around trees means your work environment is continually changing. You get to work in some amazing locations.

“Lots of people working in arboriculture are incredibly passionate about their jobs. You can learn so much from those around you. Most people are happy to share their knowledge and experience. What starts as a job turns into a bit of an obsession.”

Forestry Journal: Taking part in some cross-cutting training with a new group of trainees.Taking part in some cross-cutting training with a new group of trainees.

When asked about forestry and arb still being a male-dominated sector, she said: “There are still some small-minded people who question women’s abilities in our industry. This is obviously frustrating, but you will find outdated attitudes everywhere and, fortunately, there are also lots of people who will encourage and support you.”

What remains to be done, however, is to up the numbers of people entering the industry. Kirsty said: “Across the land-based sector, including forestry and arboriculture, there’s a lack of recruits and, as one example, it just isn’t pushed enough as a career option in schools.”

To help tackle that, Kirsty is now involved with promoting arboriculture in schools, as part of her work as a committee member on the Arb Association’s media and communications committee, as well as developing her own tree-focused forest school sessions.

She said: “I’m passionate about promoting arboriculture to young people and showing the varied career opportunities working with trees. I believe strongly in outdoor-based learning and I think there are huge benefits in forest school sessions for all ages, from toddlers to adults. There’s a lack of people joining our industry and I believe this could be increased if people were made aware of the careers available.”

Forestry Journal: Sorting through one of Hi-Line’s many climbing kit deliveries.Sorting through one of Hi-Line’s many climbing kit deliveries.

Another opportunity to boost numbers is recruitment of ex-military personnel into land-based industries. She said: “Military veterans have many transferable skills and fit well into outdoor-based roles.”

Working with organisations such as HighGround, she is keen to promote forestry and arboriculture to people wishing to move into new careers on leaving the military.

And what else could help attract people? She said: “Even before you start training or applying for a new job, just go to a local park or arboretum for a walk with a basic tree ID book and look around. Knowing a little about a few trees will help you in your new career and set you above others at your interview and you’ll soon be hooked on trees.”

As a qualified massage therapist, Kirsty has looked into injury prevention and management for climbers and the way that equipment can affect how people carry out their jobs.

Since taking charge of Hi-Line’s LOLER inspection programme, Kirsty and the firm’s LOLER inspector have researched how climbing equipment may be used to help avoid, or at least reduce, the number of injuries suffered by climbers and the effects climbing has on the body.

One action following this has been to introduce Petzl ZigZags to Hi-Line climbers, as these can help reduce stress on the body and assist with ergonomic work methods. The team is also developing workshops focused on injury prevention.

Kirsty said: “Understanding techniques and equipment that can prolong a climber’s working life is invaluable for both companies and individuals. Including items such as the Petzl ZigZag in your climbing set-up can mean less strain on the body and can help people carry on climbing well into their forties and for some way beyond that.”

Forestry Journal: Taking a schools group on a tree ID walk.Taking a schools group on a tree ID walk.

As well as the above projects, Kirsty’s day-to-day focus is continuing to build and promote Hi-Line Training as an independent training provider.

Kirsty sums up with: “Over the past 18 months we have worked hard to establish our training business and we have gone from strength to strength. As well as offering all the standard chainsaw and climbing courses, we specialise in utility arboriculture training, forestry and arb first-aid training and utility arborist training programmes. With candidates coming to us from across the UK, it is an exciting time for me and my team as our range of courses increases and our customer base continues to grow.”