Tree Sparks interviews Catherine, a Forestry student from Bangor University in celebration of International Women’s Day 2019.

What do you study?

BSc Forestry, second year, Bangor University

Why forestry?

I grew up in North Wales with a passion for the outdoors, adventure and learning. My father worked in outdoor education so I was brought up to have a deep connection with this landscape, but at 18 I moved away to York to study Linguistics. I thought I was doing what was right for me, but it turned out I was just doing what was expected of me and after a year of conflicting feelings I dropped out. After a few years of working in offices I returned to North Wales, and decided to enrol at university in Bangor to boost my credentials.

At first I was looking for something like economics, business administration; something that would complement the skills I’d acquired working for large organisations, when I stumbled on forestry. I had no idea that forestry was something I could study at degree level, but just by looking at the course content I knew my life was about to change. I’m so excited to my studying a degree that will give me an industry, and that has helped me re-discover my roots in beautiful North Wales.

Favourite Tree?

The common walnut! My village has the remains of a Roman settlement close by, and Romans introduced the walnut to Britain. There are a few walnut trees scattered around the settlement ruins, and I like to think they’re decedents of trees planted there by the Romans.

What do you believe is the biggest challenge facing forestry today?

I think the movement of pests and diseases is a huge worry for forestry, and finding ways to mitigate the risk of infection is proving challenging. Solutions like increasing forest resilience and improving biosecurity controls are complex and require international co-operation, but with increasing trade in live plants and other high-risk products, finding a resolution won’t be easy.

What next?

I’d really love to work in developing plant biosecurity controls to help mitigate against pests and diseases. The security of our woodlands affects our markets, ecosystems and successful land management, so I’d love to take my passion in to policy and help protect British forests, especially at a time of great political stress. I’d also love to encourage forestry as a viable career choice to children and young people who are considering their future. I was 22 before I knew forestry was an option, and it certainly didn’t come from my teachers or parents.

Advice for future female foresters?

Don’t be scared, jump in! Even if your background isn’t in science, passion is enough to drive your success. Don’t let anyone tell you that forestry “isn’t for academic school leavers”, it absolutely is. Forestry is so multidisciplinary that no matter what your background is you’ll quickly find an area that you fall in love with. Despite it being a male-dominated industry, women are bringing their expertise to the table and more and more key roles are being taken by inspiring women, and one day it could be you. My best advice is to talk to foresters at all stages of their careers, students, academics, practitioners, everyone; you’ll soon realise what a web of options there is for your future.