Forestry student Heather Coyle on placement at Glen Tanar Estate
Heather Coyle studied for an HND in Forestry at the Scottish School of Forestry (SSF), Inverness College UHI
How did you get into the forestry industry?
The honest answer is it was a bit of a fluke, really. I had always enjoyed working in the outdoors, having previously been an outdoor instructor. However, I wanted to move into a career that stimulated me mentally, as well as providing me with practical challenges.
I was completely ignorant about the forestry industry when I first heard about it. Having come from Glasgow, it seemed a strange idea that forests were actually managed at all. The past two years, therefore, have been a massive learning curve, but I’ve fallen into an industry which I absolutely love.
What was your placement at Glen Tanar like?
The placement at Glen Tanar was absolutely fantastic. It’s amazing what you can learn in such a short time. From the off, I was given a range of different tasks and activities, all challenging in different ways and a great way to start applying my knowledge. I feel I was given a great balance of training alongside trust and love that the data I collected will be used to benefit the estate.
What did you learn?
I did a lot of survey work and was employed in a range of tasks. These included surveying burnt heather areas for black grouse habitat, surveying areas to assess the impact of deer on their natural habitat and carrying out stocking density analysis plots to quantify the success of natural regeneration on the estate (which is doing very well at present!).
As well as getting very well acquainted with my GPS device, these tasks also tested me on my tree and plant identification, my ability to assess damage by varying pests, plus my observational skills. Certainly, I felt my skills got much stronger through repetition and practice.
Do you think placements are important?
Placements are the most important thing for students entering forestry. It’s an industry founded on experience, and as someone who grew up in a city, I realise that placements are absolutely vital to gaining that experience. I’m so grateful that places like Glen Tanar are willing to offer something like this, because they’re assuming a risk in taking on a student. But they are of course helping students to gain invaluable skills for their careers.
What challenges have you experienced during your placement?
Hills. Lots of hills. On a serious note, it is always daunting having that level of trust placed in you when you’re thrown into a role like this. However, I also believe it’s the best way to learn and apply the knowledge that you have gained through your time at college. When the management places that trust within you, it gives you license to place trust in your judgement and you realise that you’re more than capable.
How do you think your placement will benefit your career?
As well as building on my identification and observation skills, this placement benefited me at the most simplistic of levels. It was great for building my confidence driving on forest tracks and using navigational skills and forward planning projects on my own to complete them efficiently. Not only did I collect data, but I also compiled maps so that the data could be interpreted and utilised. I’ve had a real insight into how a forest manager has to operate, to be multifaceted and carry a project through from start to finish.
I cannot stress enough how important a placement like this is for students, and would like to express my sincere gratitude to Glen Tanar for their willingness to offer something so valuable for new entrants to the industry.