The days of forestry being only for ‘burly, bearded lumberjacks’ are long gone. In the first of a series of articles, Forestry Journal speaks to Victoria Potts, a craftsperson with Forestry and Land Scotland, about her experience as a woman in forestry, and what more can be done to encourage others into the sector. 

WHEN it came to bringing a series of interviews with forestry’s women together, Forestry Journal asked a friend – with no connection to the industry – what they imagined someone working with trees and timber to look like. “Probably a big burly guy with a beard,” came the reply. 

With apologies to all the ‘big burly guys with beards’ out there (and, admittedly, there are a lot), that’s an image that’s increasingly untypical. If you go down to the woods today, there’s a much better chance the chainsaws, loppers, and wedges will be operated by Lumbering Jacqueline, not Lumbering Jack. 


But what’s driving that sea-change? The short answer is women like Victoria Potts, who now wants to use her voice to encourage others to follow the path she is treading. 

‘I never thought I would love cutting trees down’ 

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Growing up in a family that loves woodland walks – “doesn’t every family?” – Victoria is one of the many people who almost fell into forestry by accident. But she doesn’t regret it for a second. 

“I have a degree in textile design … it’s quite different,” she said. “In the last year when I was doing my degree, I really got into sustainability. I was looking at organic fabrics and stuff like that. 

“After my degree, I was sure I wanted to work in horticulture, or something environmental. I did a master’s in sustainability, climate change and green economy. That ended up being more policy based, which I enjoyed but I was hoping for more outdoors. 

“When I did my dissertation, I ended up doing an iTree eco study at Dundee Botanic Gardens. I measured the trees and was outside every day doing my fieldwork. I loved it.” 

After finishing her master’s, Victoria became a trees and timber apprentice, even finishing runner-up in that category in 2022’s ALBAS. Today, she’s a craftsperson with Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS), working across Aberdeenshire. The beauty of her role is it’s hands-on, it’s outside, and it’s full of variety. One day she could be building fences, the next planting, and felling trees on another. Her tools of the trade include her trusty Husqvarna 550XP Mark II – “it’s grand!” – and a 572XP. 

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“It has been really enjoyable and really challenging, both mentally and physically,” she said. “I have only been doing it for a year and a half, so I am still learning. 

“I really enjoy becoming good at something I never thought I’d be good at, and facing fears head on. That comes anywhere in this job.

“We drive on difficult terrain at times, we’re using chainsaws. I have my small trees ticket. I never thought I would love cutting trees down. That goes against why I came into this job, but the satisfaction I get out of pushing myself is what I enjoy.” 

What Victoria has grown to enjoy less is so-called ‘greenwashing’ – basically, headlines about tree planting designed to exaggerate governments’ or firms’ environmental credentials without going beyond the topline number. Or asking important questions like ‘are these the right trees for that location?’ or even ‘who will look after them once they’ve been planted and the photo taken?’. 

She said: “I didn’t really know about forestry until I came into this job. I’d seen statistics about tree planting and that sort of stuff, so I thought it was best to plant as many trees as possible.

“Coming into this job, you know that’s potentially not right. You have to manage the trees, you have to plant the correct trees. It’s more complex than the media and government plaster across the headlines. Things like that annoy me now.

“I am very aware of how complex the process is, from the economic side to the environmental side, and how it is all intertwined. It’s difficult because you have to keep everyone happy. It’s very complex and you can’t just do it with one slogan or message.” 

‘It has been challenging at times’ 

Let’s cut to the crux of this series. Every statistic will tell you these are changed days in forestry. As of August last year, 11 out of FLS’s 40 apprentices were women. Similar pictures can be found across the UK at every level of the industry, with both Forestry England and the Forestry Commission having a workforce that’s around 40-per-cent female. Even the Institute of Chartered Foresters’ new Emerging Leader Programme has more women than men enrolled. 

But behind those numbers, what has Victoria’s experience been like? The good news is it is mostly positive – with a few exceptions (although none linked to her current role). 

“I have found it quite difficult at times,” she says. “It is dependent on the individual. 80 per cent of my experience has been great and people are very open to talk about gender disparity. At my region we have more females and non-binary members than many other regions. That’s my impression. 

“It has been challenging at times. First of all physically, when I came into this job I wasn’t very strong. At the start I couldn’t lift a post driver. Now I can. It’s good seeing progress like that within yourself.” 

Some of the actions taken by Victoria to fit in may well come as a shock. 

“When you have a female coming into a male-dominated industry there is emotional labour women have to do,” she said. “We don’t really realise that. 

“I have found myself deepening my voice or acting more masculine, depending on how I have been treated. 

“You adapt to your environment to fit into it. Which I guess everyone does. There’s this narrative of bringing women into male-dominated industries, which is a good thing, but the emotional labour we have to do isn’t talked about enough or understood. 

“It can be small things that impact how you are treated. It hasn’t happened at my current job, but in the past I have had tools taken off me and felt undermined. There were some encounters where I was quite surprised at the sexism.

“These are isolated instances of individuals. I wouldn’t say it’s an overarching thing. It is just a complex issue and you have it within every industry.”

This series will continue in future editions of Forestry Journal. If you’d like to take part, email