News, stories and reports from Forestry Commission Scotland and the National Forest Estate

An insider’s view – from beautician to woodland warden

Lesley Stalker has been on a fantastic life changing journey after she fell in love with the outdoors and changed her career from beautician to an award winning Woodland Warden.

Lesley Plantingeditededited

Lesley, based in our Clydebank office, tells her own story about her decision to change careers:

“After leaving school I went to college to study Complementary and Beauty Therapies. I worked for a few years in a salon and on my own with a few other jobs in-between. In my early twenties I decided I wanted a change and a new start. 

“I have always enjoyed being in the outdoors and I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to do some voluntary work. I worked with people who had addiction problems on a programme called Recovery Through Nature. I helped to lead these sessions, doing basic woodland tasks from pruning to pond creation and path reinstating. It was a big change but I loved it. It was then that I realised what I wanted to do. It was through this position that I heard of the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme run by Forestry Commission Scotland. I applied and was successful.

“It was a two year placement with the chance to gain some qualifications. My role was varied; I shadowed our Forest Operations team doing jobs including plot surveys, planting, and drainage marking. I also spent some time in the Recreation and Conservation teams. I was put through lots of training including Strimmer/Clearing Saw, Chainsaw tickets, planting and fencing and formal qualifications. I thoroughly enjoyed my time, I learned so much and it really helped with my confidence inside and out of work.

Lesley on a quad bike

“Within a year, a full time post came up in the Commission as a Woodland Warden. I applied and was successful – I started the new post exactly a year after I started as an Apprentice. 

“I hadn't finished my qualifications and working full time, I took it upon myself to use my spare time in the evenings and weekends to finish my course work. In doing this I managed to get both qualifications completed in 18 months which is the fastest time anyone has done this in the Commission!

“I now cover over 10 sites in the East and South of Glasgow doing jobs such as path maintenance, tree works, grass cutting and litter picking. I have a volunteer group that comes out once a month to work in our sites, so I lead them on different tasks. I am continuing with training and I am still learning every day on the job. Although it was a huge change I made to my life, it is the best thing I have done. I really enjoy my job and I am looking forward to progressing through the Commission."

Lesley's fantastic commitment and hard work was recently recognised when she won first place in the Trees and Timber Learner of the Year category at the Lantra Scotland annual awards ceremony. Heather Forbes from our Inverness office took the runner up spot.

Lesy receiving award

About the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme

Over the last nine years, we have helped almost 700 young people improve their employability and or gain entry into the forestry sector through three programmes: The Modern Apprenticeship Scheme, Employability Skills and Student placements. 

The Modern Apprentices are employed within our existing teams and are involved, trained and supported through a wide range of operational tasks and activities, as well as working towards an Scottish Vocational Qualifications level 2 or 3 in Trees and Timber. 

  • 104 people have been through the scheme since 2006;
  • 72 (69%) Modern Apprentices have gained permanent employment within the Forest Industry;
  • 61 (58%) of Modern Apprentices have gained permanent employment within the Forest Commission;
  • 22 (21%) of Modern Apprentices are female, 82 (79%) are male.