In celebration of 20 years of Forestry at WIT, we talk to Luke Heffernan, forestry inspector, The Forest Service
Because Luke Heffernan has always been interested in mountains, forests and rivers, he chose to study geography in school. This had a great influence on his later choice to study Forestry in college.
At a later stage in his life, Luke went back to college to graduate in Field Ecology. “Forestry is such a broad field that specialising in a complementary field brings many benefits,” he says.
What are the main tasks and responsibilities?
One of my principal duties is to carry out forest site inspections and documentation checks on forestry applications such as afforestation, forest road construction, felling licences and the Native Woodland Scheme. I have a responsibility to ensure the applications comply with Forest Service standards and relevant European and Irish legislation.
Describe a typical day
Each day is different but typically consists of several site inspections grouped within a reasonable distance of each other. Some examples of site inspections would include afforestation applications, felling licence inspections, forest road applications and reforestation inspections.
I will assess parameters such as the health and number of trees planted, fencing, and environmental standards such as setbacks from rivers, buildings and archaeology. Often I will liaise with foresters, landowners and other agencies during the course of my duties.
What are the main challenges?
I have found forestry to be multi-faceted, and because of this, it can be a challenge to ensure all relevant information is collected and assessed when making forestry related decisions. Specifically, forestry can have numerous environmental, silvicultural, economic and social objectives and constraints – thus arriving at the optimal decision and result is often at times challenging!
What particular skills do you bring to your workplace?
I would like to think that my communication skills developed during my career to date enable me to bring significant value to my current role.
It is cool to spend so much time outdoors in an active job.
What's not so cool?
So far I haven’t found anything that is not cool!
How did you go about getting your current job?
I applied through the Public Appointments Service.
What were the main 'career decision' milestones in your life so far?
The two key milestones were first, deciding to study Forestry after school, and second, going back to college part time to do a diploma in Field Ecology. Forestry is such a broad field that specialising in a complementary field brings many benefits (e.g. ecology, engineering, business).
Who are the people who most influenced your career direction?
My colleagues have been very influential in terms of where I have directed my career. I have been lucky to work with a diverse range of people, many of whom have given great advice!
Does your job allow you to have a lifestyle you are happy with?
Absolutely, particularly because it allows me to spend my time outdoors and in a wide variety of locations. I enjoy deer hunting, birdwatching, and hiking, and this is certainly a career that fits those interests very well.
Education and training
What subjects did you take in school and how have these influenced your career path?
I was always interested in mountains, forests and rivers, and studying geography certainly was a strong influence in choosing to study forestry at college.
What is your education to date?
- Bachelor of Science in Forestry (Waterford Institute of Technology)
- MSc Forests and Livelihoods (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
- MSc Agroforestry (University of Bangor, Wales)
- Diploma in Field Ecology (University College Cork)
What aspects of your education have proven most important for your job?
My forestry degree at WIT has proven to be most important to date. In particular the second and third years there where I spent significant time undertaking practical projects such as inventory, afforestation and harvesting.
Have you undertaken, or do you plan to undertake any further training as part of your job?
At the moment I am focusing on completing my diploma in Field Ecology.
What have been the most rewarding events in your career so far?
Standout moments for me have been working with local communities and helping them realise the benefits of their local forests. Also, I’ve been lucky enough to have some fantastic sightings of Irish wildlife.
What personal qualities do you have that helps you in your career?
Every forester must be able to take a long-term view of things because that is the very nature of forestry. I like to think that is a personal quality of mine.
What is your dream job?
To work as a National Park Ranger in Redwoods National Park, California amongst the world’s tallest trees.
Advice for others
What are the three most important personal characteristics required for the job?
The ability to make decisions; self-motivation and communication.
What advice would you give to someone considering this job?
I would explain that it is a role where you can expect to be learning every day, most especially from what you observe on the ground and from the people that you meet.
What kinds of work experience would provide a good background for this position?
Because forestry can be so multi-faceted, I think a diverse range of experiences is important. Some things that spring to mind include site assessment experience (soil types, environmental issues, silviculture) and experience communicating with people too.
These WIT Forestry graduate testimonials were compiled by the Forestry Careers Promotion Group to mark the 20-year anniversary of Forestry courses at WIT in 2018.