Mum of two Hannah thrives in a man’s world

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Hannah Mitchell is not your typical forester.

The cutting edge – literally – of the industry is no place for the faint-hearted and, as a wife and mother, she appears an incongruous figure among the men who earn their living from the forests of Wales.

But it’s here that Carmarthen-born Hannah is at her happiest – mingling with hard-baked contractors in all weathers as they extract the trees that keep the wheels oiled of an industry worth in excess of £400 million to the Welsh economy.

In such an environment there is no room for passengers, but Hannah’s knowledge and enthusiasm have quickly won over any doubters.

“The contractors are really good about it. They used to stop in mid-sentence when they saw me turn up in the van and they mind their Ps and Qs for a bit but, once they get to know me, they just get on with it,” she says.

“Sometimes, it seems like a woman making her way in a man’s world, especially on harvesting sites, but I try to get on with it and not feel like a girl!”

Hannah, 37, joined Forestry Commission Wales three years ago after meeting James Tinney of the Commission’s Woodlands for Learning team while she worked as an animal care assistant for the RSPCA in Swansea.

When James moved on, Hannah joined the team as education officer in Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire, opening children’s eyes to the potential of woodlands as a stimulating outdoor learning environment.

But when she was invited to spend two days a week with the FC Wales harvesting team, she jumped at the chance to expand her knowledge.

Hannah, who lives in Pentremorgan, attended Bro Myrddyn comprehensive school in Carmarthen and her rugged approach to life set in early on the family farm in Cynwyl Elfed, where she was always helping her father in the fields.

“I hate shopping for clothes and all that stuff,” said mother-of-two Hannah. “I never wanted to go to girl guides, I always wanted to go to scouts. There were definitely no girly pursuits.”

That’s hardly an expression that could be applied to her job with the FC Wales harvesting team – checking maps against information on the ground, ensuring contractors fulfil their obligations, measuring timber stacks and pulling together sales contracts, to name but a few tasks.

It’s a job which placed her at the heart of an industry which provides thousands of rural jobs and brings valuable economic benefits to Wales.

“I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the harvesting team and my forestry skills have improved greatly, as has my knowledge,” she says.

“I’ve found myself, whilst on holiday, measuring trees for the amount of logs that we could get out of them and checking out their girth etc!”

Hannah’s thirst for knowledge about forestry seems insatiable – she’s currently studying for a forestry degree and has just taken on the role of conservation ranger based in Llandovery on a six-month career development opportunity.

The local forestry college, Gelli Aur, is also keen for her to share her knowledge on the industry with their students.

Fortunately, her husband, Jason, is also in the tree business, working as an arboriculturalist in Haverfordwest.

She even had time to appear in the popular BBC quiz show, The Weakest Link, and left the other contestants in her wake to scoop the jackpot.

Whether it’s dealing with groups of children, tough-talking foresters – or TV's “Queen of Mean” Anne Robinson – Hannah clearly takes it all in her stride.