Emma Staniforth: Modern Apprentice in trees and timber

Emma Staniforth is a rising star in forestry

Emma Staniforth, from Dalswinton near Dumfries, is not your typical forester. As one of the few women working in a male-dominated sector - only 24% of the total forestry workforce are female - she is already breaking the mould. At the age of 34 and having no prior experience, Emma was chosen out of 800 applicants to join Forest Enterprise Scotland’s highly sought-after Modern Apprenticeship programme. What is even more remarkable, is that only 11 made the grade and Emma was one of only two women selected.

The accolades don’t stop there. Emma completed the SVQ 2 and 3 in General Woodland and Tree Work faster than anyone else. She also gained a range of practical qualifications at the first time of asking. Furthermore, Emma’s extraordinary efforts were recognised in March when she became the Trees and Timber and the Overall Winner of Lantra Scotland’s prestigious Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards. Emma is one of only two women to win the overall award, the highest accolade for rural trainees in Scotland.

Despite her success, Emma remains one of the most down-to-earth people you could ever meet. Always humble and hard-working, she is a shining example of what can be achieved through dedication and a willingness to learn. What is even more remarkable is her selflessness – you get a sense that she is not doing this for herself. She is on a mission to introduce young and old alike to forestry, to its impact on the environment and our landscape. She believes that through our modern way of living, we have lost touch with our forests and wildlands. It is her burning desire to reintroduce communities to the unappreciated and often misunderstood world of forestry.

But it wasn’t always this way – before her new life in forestry, Emma worked on urban regeneration projects in deprived areas near Southport, her hometown in north-west England. After being made redundant, Emma faced a crossroads in her career and decided to take time out to consider her options. In 2012, she went to Australia and found work on a potato farm to fulfil her 90-day working holiday visa requirements. She immediately took to the outdoors life and found an opportunity to work for a longer period on a cattle and wheat farm in York, Western Australia. With her ‘give it a go’ attitude, Emma applied herself to the role of ‘Jillaroo’ and thoroughly enjoyed the work she did with machinery and cattle, gaining new experiences and skills.

When she returned to the UK, she saw the Apprenticeship Scheme advertised by Forestry Commission Scotland and immediately applied for it. By combining practical, hands-on work experience and theoretical study, she realised that the Modern Apprenticeship would allow her to develop her interests, gain qualifications and lead to full-time employment in a land-based career.

Fast forward 15 months and Emma is now an integral part of a small team at Forest Enterprise Scotland, managing forestry in Dumfries and Galloway in south-west Scotland. She is working as a Forest Craftsperson supporting the Forest Management Department on all aspects of managing young tree plantations. This is a demanding, year-round role that includes winter tasks ranging from tree deliveries to artificial reforestation and restocking.

In the spring, Emma is involved in site surveys to establish the success of tree planting, as well as vegetation clearance using mechanical and chemical methods of control. Part of this involves repairing and constructing fencing to protect young trees from deer and sheep. In early summer, her attention shifts to tree felling and respacing operations using the skills she learnt on her chainsaw and clearing saw courses. She also gets involved in maintenance work with the recreation squad to improve tree safety around walks and facilities, as well as path construction and grass cutting.

One major initiative she undertook as part of her SVQ level 3 was a unique hazel coppicing project on an existing Planted Ancient Woodland Site (PAWS). Emma said “It was great to be involved in surveying and developing plans for the future management of the site. I also thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the local community. One weekend, we organised a volunteer event where people from the local area helped complete our coppicing work. This provided a great opportunity to educate people about how we manage forestry and why it is important to the environment and landscape.”

Emma takes great satisfaction in her new role and was quick to explain her love of forestry: “I take great pride in the positive impact my everyday role has on the environment and the wider public. I enjoy seeing the succession of the forest over time and the actual process and results of my work, from clearance to ground preparation, planting, looking after the trees and monitoring their health, beat up, tariffing, harvesting and back to ground preparation to start the process again. I like to think that the work I undertake from the micro up to the landscape level, is establishing woodlands for future generations and the forest industry.”

After 19 months working in the apprenticeship programme, Emma was rewarded for her efforts by being appointed to the position of recreational craftsperson. In her new role, Emma takes part in more strategic aspects of forestry planning and management, including contributing to coppicing management plans and creating constraints maps for contractors. She hopes this will prepare her for more senior management positions in the future.

Emma is also fully committed to developing her skills by participating in numerous courses on offer through the Forestry Commission, including playground inspection, tree safety and the next level of chainsaw licence consolidation. Emma has also been recommended by her line manager for the Forestry Commission’s management development programme, which would help her progress to supervisor and beyond.

So what does the future hold for this stellar forestry apprentice? In the short term, Emma is keen to continue building her skills and experience within the Forestry Commission and become a supervisor within the next few years, moving up to forester level when the opportunity arises.

Longer term, Emma’s dream is to use her wealth of knowledge and skills to introduce other people to forestry, demonstrating her altruistic attitude and willingness to help others. She explains: “Ultimately, I’d like to reach a professional level, helping people who are interested in forestry to improve their skills and knowledge. I’d be particularly interested in teaching people about natural reforestation and afforestation and working with community groups to take on ownership of small forest areas.”

One of Emma’s greatest ambitions is to own her own patch of forest, either privately or as part of a community scheme and use the area a teaching resource for people interested in forestry.

“I’d love to create a teaching centre to give people with no prior background in forestry the opportunity to give it a try before they commit to a career in the sector. Although the Modern Apprenticeship scheme is fantastic, I think that more introductory courses earlier on in the process would give people a taster of what it’s all about, without the associated financial or time commitment. For example, offering one-day or half-day courses would provide a flavour of our industry and introduce the next generation of foresters into the sector.”

Emma has also expressed an interest in helping to promote forestry through schools and education centres, as well as career talks. In June, she was chosen to take part in a new industry champions initiative from Lantra Scotland, which aims to inspire the next generation of learners within Scotland’s rural industries. The initiative will see former finalists from Lantra Scotland’s Land-based and Aquaculture Learner of the Year Awards become members of this exclusive group, with the aim of introducing more people to career opportunities and qualifications offered by their respective industries. The champions will also act as ambassadors for their employers and the wider rural sector, promoting land, environmental and aquaculture industries to the next generation of talent. Emma was one of only three champions chosen to speak when the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy and Connectivity, Fergus Ewing, launched the initiative at this year’s Royal Highland Show.

Against all the odds, Emma has become a shining example of what can be achieved through hard work and having a passion for what you do. Despite coming into forestry relatively late, she has quickly established herself as a rising star at Forest Enterprise Scotland and with hard work and bit of luck, is destined for great things.

Emma says: “What I have learnt is that if you want something badly enough and you’re willing to put in the hard graft, almost anything is possible. This applies as much to older people who are looking to change careers, as it does for young people leaving school who are considering their options. Don’t be put off by what you see as barriers or reasons for not doing something. Always back yourself and have confidence in your ability to succeed. That will take you a long way, as it certainly has for me.”