Forestry skills crisis puts climate targets at risk

On Thursday 7 October we sent a position paper to Ministers across the UK detailing our serious concerns about the skills shortage in our sector, which we believe puts climate targets at risk. Read the executive summary below or download the full document.

We have asked governments to commit to action and offered solutions; we have also made a number of commitments for what we, as the professional body, will do, and called on the private sector, third sector, public bodies, fellow professional bodies and our own members to help drive the necessary change.

We hope that the key message can be endorsed widely: the sector needs urgent action on skills if we are to deliver for the environment in this time of crisis. Your support in sharing this through your network would be much appreciated.

If you have any queries or comments contact the Institute’s Policy Manager, Jemima Cooper.


Can’t see the skills for the trees – critical shortages in forestry workforce skills put climate targets at risk 

Executive Summary

Our Position:
 In line with the Prime Minister’s COP26 mantra – ‘coal, cars, cash, and trees’ – we agree that trees are fundamental to tackling the climate and nature crises. People need trees and trees need people: we cannot hope to achieve what is needed without urgently expanding, upskilling and diversifying the forestry and arboriculture workforce. Immediate action is needed.

Risks: If we do not get this right, there will be grave consequences for the UK’s climate leadership, biodiversity and the environment on every level. There are risks to individuals, communities, businesses, the environment and the reputation of forest-based economies. If urgent action is not taken across the UK, there will be both short- and long-term consequences. An understaffed and under-skilled workforce will lead to poorly planted and managed woodlands, urban trees that do more harm than good, and the wrong trees in the wrong places, with increased susceptibility to pests and diseases. In effect, we would fail to play our part in addressing the environmental crisis and in making the most of the huge green growth opportunity.

Challenge: There are significant challenges and ambitious targets to achieve. Projections from recent researchindicate that the number of skilled people required to meet these targets – up to a 72% increase across the workforce – vastly outweigh both the current reality and the future trajectory of new entrants. Further and higher education providers are unable to provide the training and education under current resourcing models. We are simply not educating or developing enough people to the high standards needed to deliver what is required. Lack of awareness of forestry as a fantastic green career and poor accessibility of courses are major barriers to recruitment.

We are particularly concerned that there are not enough suitably qualified and experienced professionals to address the complexity of modern, sustainable forestry as the UK delivers its planned rapid expansion of woodlands of all types. Professionals bring the skills, knowledge and experience needed to deliver the policies of the government, meet the needs of industry, protect the environment and provide a return to owners. The small number of forestry professionals (fewer than a thousand) in a sector responsible for 13% of the UK’s land mass emphasises the scale of the challenge.

Solution: We call on governments, public bodies, private and third sectors, higher and further education, and allied professions to commit to resourcing the sector’s education, training and development needs, campaigning to raise the profile of forestry and arboriculture careers and creating new pathways into the industry to widen access. We suggest three quick wins:

  1. Fund the development of a new Forestry Training Hub to foster higher education connections, employer networks, links between academia and business, good practice and online learning, and to act as a resource for businesses to engage with apprenticeships.
  2. Mobilise a national recruitment campaign about working with trees to encourage more young people and career changers into training for careers that tackle the climate crisis.
  3. Support the delivery of a leadership training programme to ensure strong, long-term, inspirational leadership for delivering on the climate change agenda.

It is our collective responsibility to ensure a future forestry workforce that can deliver for climate, nature, people, and economic outcomes. We urge you to read our position paper – contact the Institute to discuss further action and work with us to make our goals for the environment a reality.


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