BLOG: Women in Forestry – how far have we come in 100 years?

5 March 2018

Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, at City of Trees we have been remembering and celebrating 100 years of votes for women. As an organisation interested in all things tree and forest related we also started thinking about what has happened over the last century for women in the land and forestry sector. It turns out that the suffragette movement and women working in forests are not entirely unconnected…

The First World War and what this meant for women working in the land based sector

The activities of women in the Land Army during the Second World War are quite well known, but it was during the First World War that the original Women’s Land Army and Forestry Corps was formed.

Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the leading suffragettes, concentrated in the war period on mobilising women to take on war roles - seeing this as an effective way of demonstrating women as equal citizens. Pankhurst headed a march in London in 1915 that demanded the right for women to serve their country, with banners saying that the country should ‘mobilize the brains and energy of women'.

Marches to encourage women to get involved specifically in agricultural and forestry work continued throughout the war period as shown in the picture below of a demonstration crossing Fishergate railway bridge in Preston, 1916.

The Women’s Forestry Corp in action

The Women’s Forestry Corp that was set up to help the war effort was controlled by the Timber Supply department of the Board of Trade and was intended to help supply wood for industrial and paper production at home as well as for construction purposes in the battlefields abroad.

Arguably the women involved in forestry at this time had the hardest arguments to win – they had to challenge the notions that land based work was unfeminine and physical activities were inappropriate and dangerous for women. The women volunteering often had to improvise outfits and trousers to make working outdoors feasible as well as trying to find suitable tools and equipment. Despite this the vital work that was done was picked up by national and local press and began to challenge the more stereotyped views of what women could do.

The work done by women in forestry and agriculture between 1914 – 18 certainly helped shift opinions on what woman could and couldn’t do in physical roles and paved the way for an expanded Women’s Land Army and Women’s Timber Corps during the second world war.

Women in forestry – how about now?

100 years after the first women in the UK received the vote seems like a good point to reflect on how many women are involved in forestry and land based work now.

Like many other areas of employment, female participation at all levels in the land based sector has not expanded as fast as we might like. This may be for many reasons ranging from recruitment practice through to women feeling that forestry and land based jobs ‘are not for them.’ For more on this topic see the Heritage Lottery Funded Timber Girls Heritage Project that produced a fascinating report that both reviewed the impact of women foresters in First World War whilst also carrying out research with young women today about why they may or may not choose land based education and employment as well as giving them the opportunity to learn heritage tree skills.

At City of Trees we are very proud of all of our team including our many female colleagues who are busy looking after trees and woodland, and planting more – as well as all the other tasks in between such as raising funding, spreading our messages and much more. We also work with schools and communities to make sure that all girls and women will know what a great sector this is to work in and to encourage them to get involved if that is what they would like to do - from a very early age!