The forestry and arboriculture sectors are currently experiencing significant growth and development. Buoyant markets for forest products, the drive to expand woodland cover, increased public concern for trees and woodlands, and the development of new smart technologies are just some of the drivers that are injecting optimism and bringing new challenges for the future. As with all industries, success depends on the individual professionals and the knowledge, skills and passion they bring to their chosen discipline. This article, by Edward Wilson, provides a review of the main qualifications available for professional practice in the forestry and arboriculture sectors at the present time in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

The educational landscape has never been more vibrant and diverse. Forestry and arboriculture must compete with other professions and disciplines to attract the most talented individuals, and this is reflected in the far wider variety of courses now on offer and a greater focus on skills for employment. Courses must be relevant and attractive for students. They must also make sense from a financial perspective due to the high costs and debts that many students incur from student loans. Increasingly, individuals want to see strong links between a course of study, established career pathways and good employment prospects, to have some assurance they are making a wise investment in their own future.

Forestry and arboriculture have a very good story to tell, although sometimes getting the message out has been a major challenge. The latest edition of The Times Good University Guide (2019), for example, reports that there are rewards for forestry and arboriculture graduates who secure high-level work using their degree qualification and that the sector places favourably in the graduate employment league table. The myth that foresters and arboriculturists must compromise good salaries and progression opportunities for an outdoor working life must be debunked. The truth is that forestry and arboriculture offer great careers, secure employment and competitive salaries. In addition, there are close links between programmes of study, employers and professional organisations. Strong links between higher education institutions and the professional bodies ensure that the curriculum remains relevant to the needs of employers and, crucially, safeguards the wider public interest in recognised standards of professional practice.

Strength from diversity

One of the outstanding achievements of colleges and universities in recent years has been to acknowledge that talent comes from a diverse range of backgrounds. The notion that an individual goes to college or university as a teenager, direct from secondary school, is very much an outmoded concept. Many people only discover their vocation for forestry and arboriculture at a more mature stage in life, often because they were either dissuaded or unaware of the sector when they were making career choices at school. Broadly speaking, there are three main reasons why an individual would choose to study for a forestry or arboriculture degree. These are: 1. to gain a recognised qualification to secure an entry-level position in the sector; 2. to transition from an earlier area of employment into the sector; 3. to progress within the sector to higher levels of management or specialisation. As a result, we have more flexible learning pathways enabling individuals to qualify as foresters and arboriculturists. This flexibility also makes it possible for established professionals to continue their studies while in work.

There are several types and levels of higher education qualification available in the forestry and arboriculture sectors. These include Higher National Certificates and Diplomas (HNC/HND), and Foundation (FdSc), Bachelors (BSc) and taught Masters (MSc) degrees. Based on full-time study, an undergraduate qualification can be completed in 2–4 years and a taught Masters in one year. In former times, forestry was taught at a small number of traditional universities. Today, there is a more diverse array of providers (see Figure 1) and the approach has shifted to be more student focused, which implies more room for elective options and some flexibility within programmes of study. Table 1 and 2 provide a listing of the courses currently on offer.



a. Course Accreditation (ICF Points)

Most, but not all, Forestry and Arboriculture courses in the UK are accredited by the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF). Points are awarded based on course content: a minimum of 4 and a maximum of 8 points can be awarded to individual courses. Points are credited as partial fulfilment of the requirements for Professional Membership Entry (PME) to the Institute. New or re-validated courses require assessment from ICF and point scores are to be confirmed (TBC), while points awarded for others are dependent on prior qualifications and learning (*). Several courses are not accredited (NA) at the present time. Further information about course accreditation and the PME process is available from the ICF website (see below). The Society of Irish Foresters accredits the two degree courses offered in Ireland.

b. Information Sources

It is important to check with each institution for information about course content, options and delivery, all of which can change at relatively short notice. Information contained in this note is based on a review of college and university websites for courses commencing in Academic Session 2019-2020, and using the UCAS website (, last checked on 20 September 2018.

The modern learning experience

A key feature of modern education policy in most western economies is a drive to widen engagement and participation in degree-level courses. According to Eurostat, over the past 30 years this has resulted in an increase from approximately 15% to well over 30% of the workforce in forestry and arboriculture with graduate qualifications. Much of this success has been achieved as a result of ‘progression pathways’ being built into the system, where a foundation-level qualification opens the door to higher-level qualifications. A good example of this approach is the emergence of ‘top up’ degrees. These are designed for graduates of Higher National Diploma (HND) and Foundation Degree (FdSc) courses. With one additional year, based on full-time study, it is possible to earn a BSc (Hons).Following this, it is possible to progress to a Masters (MSc) qualification.

While the majority of students gain entry to college or university courses on the basis of school qualifications, there are now pathways for those with alternative backgrounds or educational experiences. For example, mature students who have a practical forestry or arboriculture background and perhaps further education qualifications, such as BTEC or similar Level 3 certificates, can advance their career by gaining admission to a foundation degree course. Entrants from other professions, such as military personnel making a transition to civilian life, will find courses that meet their learning needs. These alternative routes have helped increase diversity and mobility within the forestry and arboriculture sectors. Because it can sound complicated, it is always advisable for candidates to talk through options with a college or university admissions tutor at the earliest opportunity.

Another important feature of forestry and arboriculture courses is the opportunity to gain practical and work-based experience as part of the programme of study (IMAGE 6250 GOES HEREABOUTS). Foundation-level courses leading to HNC/D and FdSc qualifications increasingly involve practical elements, industry placements and work-based learning options. Many providers offer degrees with one-year industry placements, also known as ‘sandwich courses’. These typically result in a one-year extension of the course of study, but give graduates exposure to the work of a forester or arboriculturist, and experience in basic practical skills and supervisory tasks. At University College Dublin, for example, an alternative model has been developed where a 16-week work placement is built directly into the curriculum and is a formal course requirement. Very often graduates who make a strong positive impression are able to secure employment on the back of their work placement.

Degree courses awarded at the honours level generally include both an individual research project (i.e., dissertation) and modules in management planning. These projects help graduates develop skills that are highly valued by employers. Graduates with a combination of research, management, project planning, and practical skills are at an advantage in the employment market. Given the opportunities now available, a resourceful student should be able to present themselves to potential employers as a graduate who is ‘work-ready’.

Variety, flexibility and innovation

Recently there have been a number of developments in arboriculture and forestry education at the undergraduate level, with the emergence of new courses and delivery modes (Table 1). For example, the Scottish School of Forestry (University of the Highlands and Islands) has introduced a BSc (Hons) in Forest Management, which replaces the ordinary BSc degree that was offered over many years. At Northumberland College, a new BSc (Hons) in Arboriculture has been developed, validated and awarded through the University of Cumbria. Progression from Higher National and Foundation degree qualifications are provided for with top up BSc (Hons) degrees available at University Centre Myerscough, University of Cumbria and Waterford Institute of Technology. At Bangor University a broad-based BSc (Hons) in Geography and Environmental Forestry and an integrated Master of Forestry (MFor) have been launched in recent years. This latter qualification is a four-year course that extends the undergraduate curriculum to advanced studies and research at the postgraduate level. This very much falls in line with a wider educational trend towards integrated Masters courses in science and engineering, leading to the MChem, MMath, MPhys and MEng degrees.

Arboriculture has seen rapid development in recent years, with foundation-level and bachelors courses at a number of colleges around the country, including Askham Bryan, Northumberland and Pershore colleges, at University Centre Myerscough and the University of the Highlands and Islands. Most of these courses offer a range of study modes, with Myerscough leading the way with an online/distance option for some of their programmes.

Meanwhile, the more traditional route to advanced qualifications has been strengthened with an increased range of taught MSc degrees (Table 2). Perhaps one of the greatest successes has been the rise in online/distance learning at the postgraduate level, with Bangor and Myerscough now internationally-recognised for the quality of their online MSc degrees in forestry and arboriculture, respectively. Both these courses take three years to complete but enable students to remain in work at their home location.

More traditional Masters degrees typically involve two semesters of course work, followed by a 3–4 month individual research project. However, a number of study modes are available, giving candidates more flexibility and choice in how they complete course requirements. Among the new courses to appear in recent years are the MSc Forestry Management at Harper Adams University and the MSc in Environmental and Forest Management at Aberdeen. For those with interests in forest products and processing, the MSc in Timber Architectural Design and Technology at Edinburgh Napier University is an exciting development and a clear sign of the dynamism and confidence that pervades the forestry sector. All these relatively new offerings join a range of established full-time courses in forestry at Bangor and forest protection at Harper Adams.

Of course, there are many other options for advanced study. Many people find a combination of an undergraduate forestry degree with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) to be particularly powerful. Also, there are great prospects for international study at the Masters level. Excellent courses in Canada, the USA and Europe provide a platform for study and wider experience of forestry practices elsewhere. Research Masters and PhD programmes are also an option for those seeking to specialise, but that would be the topic of a separate article!

Shared responsibility

Ensuring that the forestry and arboriculture sectors continue to build and strengthen their position as an attractive area for aspiring graduates is a shared responsibility of education institutions, employers and professional bodies. Recognising talent and the achievements of graduates is one important way of promoting the sector and attracting talent. The importance of the Prince of Wales Forest Leadership Award cannot be underestimated for raising the profile of the sector and providing unique opportunities for recipients to gain work experience in Canada. However, the emergence of strong graduate development programmes, such as those offered by the Forestry Commission, Tilhill and other employers, are vitally important for nurturing the next generation of forestry and arboriculture leaders. The role of the Institute of Chartered Foresters and the Arboricultural Association in the UK, and the Society of Irish Foresters in Ireland, are essential for promoting standards and providing a pathway onwards for graduates to attain professional credentials, including the MICFor (UK) and MSIF (Ireland).

Final thoughts

Education and learning are the bedrocks of all professions. The range of courses currently available in the United Kingdom and Ireland recognises the breadth and diversity of career opportunities in forestry and arboriculture sectors. Strong links between educational institutions, employers and professional organisations ensures that courses remain relevant and practical, but with appropriate academic challenge and rigour. Nurturing the next generation of professionals is essential for meeting societal demands and delivering sustainable management of woodlands and trees into the future.


Further Information about Careers in Forestry and Arboriculture:

• Institute of Chartered Foresters –

• Society of Irish Foresters –

• Arboricultural Association –

• College and University websites – information about entry requirements, course content and study modes.



Edward Wilson has had a long career in forestry education and research, based in Canada, Ireland and the UK. He is currently Walsh Fellow in Silviculture, University College Dublin, Ireland.