For the last 2 decades I’ve worked in an occupational sphere where science meets visual aesthetics, where nature and civil and structural engineering co-exist, where caring for the green environment and full-on project management productively overlap – It’s called arboriculture; and most women have never heard of it.
My name’s Jacqui Waring and, among other things, I look after trees on development sites. From large scale housing developments, to geographically remote pipeline routes for hydro schemes, rationalizing the needs of trees is my mission when construction has the potential to deliver damaging impact. As far as rewarding jobs go, I can’t imagine anything better. But it’s not an exaggerration to say that arboriculture – the cultivation, study and management of trees, shrubs and woody plants – is currently the province of men.
Arboriculture’s professional uk body, the Arb Association, has an 89% male membership. Figures obtained by LANTRA (National Training Organisation for the Land Based Industries) suggest an 81% male dominance across tree and timber organisations including admin roles, and in recent years the Forestry Commission in Scotland has earmarked an extra £300,000 toward addressing the gender imbalance.
So should women be daunted by the stats? Or are there reasons why we should look at the arboricultural sphere with excitement as a place where we can and should make our mark?
Based as I am in the Highlands of Scotland, a big part of my job involves travelling to stunning wild locations, remote windy Islands and uninhabited tracts of forest. The weather can be challenging – working Highland winters out of doors requires some stamina not to mention the very best goretex-lined waterproofs and an appetite for adventure. I’ve had to relocate temporarily to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, to Kinloch Castle on the isle of Rum, to Ardtornish Towers and plenty of remote bandbs with a remit to prepare sites for development and then constrain construction works to leave as much of the natural environment undisturbed as possible. As a self-employed consultant in a niche occupation, I not only enjoy being my own boss but simply couldn’t have raised my 2 sons alone without the flexibility this work-style has afforded me. All-in-all I’d have to say the combination of focus on the green environment and the potential to self-direct make the Arb sphere well worth investigation.
In addition the last 20 years has seen our national requirement to retain and protect trees increase dramatically driven by a growing awareness of the relationship between the benefits of tree cover and the threats of climate change. In 2015 alone, the UK’s vegetation provided air quality regulation with an economic value of £1.1 billion and averted 1,900 deaths from pollution.* Trees are a natural part of flood alleviation solutions, improvements in urban living and, with an ability to store carbon, a direct defence against global warming.
Jobs in arboriculture are becoming ever more necessary and more varied – all Local Authorities need Tree Officers, there are many fascinating fields of research (the symbiotic relationship between trees and fungi is still quite a mystery for example). Nurseries and tree planting outfits need both dedicated staff and capable management; they also need experts in fields such as biosecurity as our tree stock continues to be threatened by biological invaders such as Ash Dieback and Oak Processionary Moth. Even Arborists, the operators at the cutting edge of the tree care field (no pun intended – it’s a fully descriptive observation) can benefit from the increase in valuable ‘soft-skills’ associated with a more gender-diverse workforce.
Having operated solo for the last 12 years, working outside the mainstream in a beautiful yet remote location, I finally became a Professional Member of the Arboricultural Association in January 2018. I must admit I’d pictured the Association as a cohort of elderly, pipe-smoking gents with an in-built reluctance to countenance female participation in their man-realm. What I discovered was something different. The organisation is determined to open its ranks and move as rapidly as it can towards full inclusivity – which makes it a very exciting time to be a Woman in Arboriculture.
The momentum for change is reflected in the goals of an initiative established last spring. The Women in Arboriculture Working Group are looking to raise awareness through any and all forms of media, to visit schools and sow seeds of Arb ambition, to put their own stamp on what has been an almost exclusively male profession and to prompt institues of higher education to do more to encourage female interest. The WiA is comprised of managers, training specialists, biologists, researchers, consultants and yes, female arborists, skilled at climbing and chainsaw use. Turn’s out women can really cut it in arboriculture!
There’s an entire profession out here asking for women to make their way into it’s ranks, to invade like ivy and make arboriculture in all its forms their own. If I’ve managed to inspire you, take a look at the Arb Association’s website www.trees.org.uk, and at it’s careers section where you’ll find info on the Women in Arb Working Group. If you just want to follow up on your interest by getting in touch, you can come talk to me via my website www.treeplanning.co.uk and I’ll help steer you if I can.
*Author RHS – Oxford Economics for the Ornamental Horticulture Roundtable Group