Lorna 'branches out' as new forestry rep

International Women's Day: Forestry rep Lorna is breaking barriers in a male-dominated industry

Reading time: 5 min

Today, we hear from Unite rep and forestry worker Lorna Bailey-Towler, who’s breaking barriers in a male-dominated industry.

Lorna Bailey-Towler works in habitat restoration for Forestry England in the New Forest, and is a Unite workplace rep.

Lorna became Unite’s first female rep for forestry workers across the area after being invited to a union meeting by a colleague.

Lorna explained, “I was always involved in activism, so when a friend suggested I come along to a Unite meeting I was interested, but had no real intention of taking it any further.”

“But our rep at the time, George Whitcher, said he was retiring soon and suggested I take over his role.”

Lorna told of how George encouraged and mentored her for a year before retiring and how “his support over the year was invaluable”.

“Without him I wouldn’t have got involved,” she said.

Being a female rep in a male-dominated sector is very important to Lorna. Most of her branch members are male, but there are a growing number of female workers among the keepers and wildlife rangers. She says being a role model to encourage more women to get involved in the work is vital.

Lorna feels that being a rep gives her an opportunity to challenge the more old-fashioned views of some colleagues. She aims to encourage a cultural shift where women forestry workers are accepted as just another one of the team. And though she deals with all the bread-and-butter issues of a workplace rep, such as disciplinaries and grievances, she’s also highlighting issues that affect women workers, including health, safety and welfare.

As with women workers in many sectors that involve physical work, PPE is an issue.

Lorna (pictured below) explained, “Workers in forestry use a variety of equipment. Among the most dangerous, and commonly used, are chainsaws. There is specific PPE that must be worn when using chainsaws, and this often isn’t designed with women in mind. We sometimes end up wearing extra small sizes, which are actually dangerous to use as they can restrict movement.”

Lorna added that another common problem is toilets.

“Most yards have mainly male workers and have no female toilets,” she said. “One yard in particular is used by an all-male team, but it’s also used for training days, so there is a need for female toilets to be added.”

Lorna went on to say that Forestry England is being proactive in finding ways to improve facilities and PPE. Forestry England has also been pushing for more women to consider a career in forestry through its Women in Forestry programme.

Women in Forestry has its own page on the Forestry England website. It highlights the important role women have played in forestry in the past. Of particular note are the Women’s Timber Corp, or “Lumberjills”, of the Second World War, when “up to 18,000 women took on the job of felling and loading to driving tractors and operating sawmills”.

The website shares stories of female workers in the organisation and encourages women to explore the “wide range of careers in forestry available for women from all backgrounds, from being a forester, ecologist, or tree surgeon, to working in conservation to scientific research”.

Lorna hopes that as more women start careers in forestry, then more reps will come forward.

Lorna said, “There are a few of us in the sector — I recently heard about a female wildlife ranger in Kielder Forest who has just started as a rep.

“I definitely feel that having more female reps will raise awareness of the issues. They can act as role models for an increasing number of female forestry workers, so I’d encourage anyone thinking about it to give it a go.”

You can find out more about women working in forestry on Forestry England’s website here.

By Keith Hatch


Unite Equalities is hosting a special International Women’s Day online event on the day after IWD – Saturday (March 9), from 10-11.30am. You can hear from more inspiring Unite women members about the difference they’re making in their workplaces. The event is open to anyone – don’t miss out. You can register to attend here.