This article is part of our series of coverage from 2023's Confor Woodland Show. A full feature is in October's edition of the magazine, and we'll have lots more content across our channels. 

FORESTRY will have to diversify and attract a workforce more reflective of the wider UK or “be done for”. That was the big takeaway from a panel discussion held in the Forest Workers Zone on day one of the show, which put diversity in the sector under the spotlight. 

Bringing together figures from across the sector – including the Royal Forestry Society’s (RFS) Jen Turner and Forestry Commission’s Steve Fowkes – the debate opened with a warning from its moderator. 

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“If we do not attend to diversity in all our systems, we’re probably done for,” said Tim Cumine, membership secretary at the National Coppice Federation. “It’s no longer a right that needs to be demanded, it’s something we ought to do.” His message was echoed throughout by the panel. 

Outlining the policy perspective, Steve said: “We know we need more people to come into forestry, especially specialised skills like cutting hardwoods. People are retiring and taking skills with them.

“We’re struggling to find trainees, never mind paid practitioners. The government is giving unrealistic planting targets.

Forestry Journal: The panel discussion looked at diversity in forestry The panel discussion looked at diversity in forestry (Image: FJ/John McNee)

“Where are the thousands of people we are going to need in the sector? We have a golden opportunity and it’s such an exciting time to join the forestry sector.” 

“The sad fact is our forestry workforce is not nearly as diverse as it could or should be,” Jen said.

“We are seeing lots and lots of young people who are coming to us asking how to get a job outdoors, doing physical work, wanting to know how to get into the forestry sector. 

“And, unfortunately, our sector seems to be throwing up barriers, especially to young people from neurodiverse backgrounds, women and the LGBT communities. They all say the same thing to us, which, uncomfortable as it is to hear, is ‘forestry doesn’t feel like it’s for me’.”

Both Jen and Steve’s impressions were mirrored by the Forestry Contracting Association’s (FCA) Nick Adams, and Katy Davies, the founder of Agrecruiting. 

“If you keep dipping into the same pool, surround yourself with the same people all the time, you’re never going to evolve as a business,” Nick said. “And therefore the industry won’t evolve.”

Katy added: “When we look at the forestry sector, we always look at people with a rural background. But we need to start looking into the likes of city-centre schools, which will naturally be more diverse. 


“When we reach out to kids in cities, they really understand the future and some of the topics we are discussing. Sometimes more than children in rural settings.” 

The discussion on day two was set to explore how to overcome some of the problems and concerns raised on day one.