Forestry leadership programme to help meet skills crisis

23 September 2022

As a forestry skills shortage threatens to impede the UK’s ability to meet net zero targets, the sector’s professional body has launched a leadership programme in a bid to drive the industry forward – but says far more needs to be done if the UK is to deliver modern sustainable forestry on a large scale.

Tree planting figures fall far short of government ambitions to plant 30,000ha of trees every year by 2025 and the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) says it is impossible to meet UK environmental goals unless the existing workforce is expanded and upskilled – for which political support, better education and funding is vital.

Now the ICF has launched the Emerging Leader Programme, developed in partnership with Clore Social Leadership and funded by the Defra Trees Call to Action fund. Participants will develop skills that will ensure effective management of our trees, forests and woodlands in order to face planting targets, climate change mitigation, the biodiversity crisis and the rising demand for timber and wood-based products.

This is a pivotal moment for forestry,” said Louise Simpson, executive director. “The industry is under huge pressure but the workforce is chronically under-resourced and there is an acute shortage of skills. This has grave consequences for meeting the UK’s climate responsibilities and we urge the new government to grow a strong and resilient forestry sector that delivers on its ambitions for net zero, nature recovery and the green economy.”

“We urgently need to expand, upskill and diversify our workforce and that needs to start in the classroom so that young people recognise it as an exciting career,” said Ms Simpson. “It is also crucial to nurture the talent we have and foster tomorrow’s leaders. We are delighted to be delivering a leadership programme which we hope will attract an exceptional and diverse cohort of future leaders which will in turn shape forestry in the years to come. This initiative will give them the confidence and courage to make real changes and deliver modern sustainable forestry that works for the UK environment, economy and society.”

The first ever degree level forestry apprenticeship scheme was launched earlier this month by a partnership between the ICF, the Forestry Commission and Cumbria University. “These are gamechangers for the sector but more needs to be done,” said Ms Simpson. “Forestry comprises many small organisations which don’t have the resources to take on apprentices or offer work experience. Without funding, education, political leadership and a coherent approach throughout the UK, it is very difficult to make any real progress.”

In the Forestry Skills Crisis position paper published last year, the ICF said: “Never in peace time has there been a more urgent skills gap in forestry.” Citing industry research, it stated that the workforce needed to grow by 86% in England and 63% in Wales by 2030 and by up to 72% in Scotland by 2027. 

Challenges in education provision such as the closure of Newton Rigg College last year have been compounded by the closure of Capel Manor College’s Forestry and Arboriculture level 3 course this academic year due to a lack of resources, said Ms Simpson. “An understaffed and under-skilled workforce will lead to poorly planted and managed woodlands which will waste time and cost money.

There are 35 places on the six-month leadership programme  – 15 in England, 10 in Wales and 10 in Scotland – and the application deadline is September 30.

It is the second of two new initiatives launched by the ICF this summer. Applications for the oversubscribed Discover programme, a leadership introduction course, have just closed.

For more information on the leadership programme, visit