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Tree Surgeon

Tree surgeons, also known as arborists, work with individual trees, hedgerows and shrubs in cities, the countryside and conservation areas. They are trained and equipped to tend trees by preserving, planting, protecting, pruning and felling. A tree surgeon will have knowledge of trees as living organisms and understand when, how and why specialist tree care is needed.

Their main tasks may include:

  • planting trees and shrubs
  • pruning or thinning, removing trees, removing diseased or weakened branches
  • removal of trees as a whole or in sections
  • using a range of specialist equipment and climbing techniques
  • undertaking groundwork using a chainsaw and chipper.

Tree surgeons usually work standard full-time hours, Monday to Friday. There may be overtime, including evening and weekend work. Most of the work is outdoors in all weathers in a wide range of locations. The work can be very noisy, and they might be exposed to sawdust and fumes from tools, pesticides and fertilisers. Tree surgeons wear protective clothing, such as helmets, ear protectors and protective boots.

Salaries may range from around £12,000 to £30,000 a year.

A tree surgeon should:

  • be practical and good at working with their hands
  • be able to work safely
  • have good communication skills
  • enjoy working outdoors and as part of a team.

In some areas of the UK there is a shortage of tree surgeons. Tree surgeons work for local government, organisations such as The National Trust, specialist contractors, private landowners and businesses.

Although there are no set academic entry requirements, some employers may prefer entrants with GCSE grades. It also helps to get some voluntary experience with local or national organisations. There are also a range of useful qualifications such as BTEC National Awards and NVQs.

It may also be possible to enter through an Apprenticeship programme. The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may also be an advantageous qualification to have achieved prior to further study or employment.

Tree surgeons usually train on the job under the supervision of a manager or another experienced colleague. New workers and tree surgeons must gain competency certificates before being able to work with machinery or on their own. NVQs are available in forestry and arboriculture.

Some tree surgeons become self-employed and run their own business. They may also progress to supervisory or management level. There are sometimes opportunities to work overseas.

What is the work like?

Tree surgeons, also known as arborists, work with individual trees, hedgerows and shrubs in cities, the countryside and conservation areas. They are trained and equipped to tend trees by preserving, planting, protecting, pruning and felling, sometimes with heavy equipment. Tree surgery is often performed to improve the health of a tree, to improve its appearance or for safety reasons. A tree surgeon will have knowledge of trees as living organisms and understand when, how and why specialist tree care is needed.

Their main tasks may include:

  • planting trees and shrubs
  • pruning or thinning to remove diseased or weakened branches
  • removal of trees as a whole or in sections
  • emergency tree care following storm damage
  • using a range of specialist equipment and climbing techniques
  • undertaking groundwork using a chainsaw and chipper.

Tree surgeons work as part of a team. Ground staff ensure that a work site is safe by keeping people and vehicles away, and assist tree surgeons by passing tools, refuelling chainsaws and clearing away dead branches and debris.

Tree surgeons work with different types of hand and power tools including chainsaws, hedge cutters, mechanical shredders, secateurs and strimmers. They also regularly clean and maintain all their equipment.

Hours and environment

Tree surgeons usually work standard full-time hours, Monday to Friday. There may be overtime, including evening and weekend work. Some are on call for emergencies.

Most of the work is outdoors in all weathers in a wide range of locations. These include urban and country parks, public woodlands, highways and privately owned gardens.

The work can be very noisy and tree surgeons may be exposed to sawdust and fumes from tools, pesticides and fertilisers. They wear protective clothing such as helmets, ear protectors and chainsaw protective boots, trousers and gloves. They also use specialist rope access and positioning systems.

Tree surgery work is physically demanding, involving climbing, sometimes for many hours.

Tree surgeons may need to travel from their base to where they are working. For employed tree surgeons, transport is usually provided. For those tree surgeons that are self-employed, a driving licence will be required along with their own transport. Occasional periods may be spent working away from home.

Salary and other benefits

These figures are only a guide, as actual rates of pay may vary, depending on the employer and where people live.

  • Starting salaries may be around £12,000 a year.
  • Experienced tree surgeons may earn between £14,000 and £24,000.
  • Self-employed tree surgeons may earn up to £30,000 or more.

Some employers provide the protective clothing needed for the job.

Skills and personal qualities

A tree surgeon should:

  • be practical and good at working with their hands
  • be able to work safely
  • be responsible and diligent
  • enjoy working as part of a team
  • have good communication skills.

Interests

It is important to:

  • enjoy working outdoors
  • be interested in conserving and improving the environment.

Getting in

Tree surgeons work for local government, for organisations such as the National Trust, and for specialist contractors, private landowners and businesses. Many employers are very small, employing one or two workers, but some have up to 200 employees or more.

In some areas of the UK there is a shortage of tree surgeons.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers and on local authority websites. The Arboricultural Association newsletter and website and the trade magazines Horticulture Week and Treeline have job vacancy information.

Entry routes

Although there are no set academic entry requirements, some employers may prefer people with some GCSE grades. It may also be beneficial to have some voluntary experience with national and local conservation organisations or horticultural groups.

Useful qualifications include:

  • BTEC National Award/Certificate/Diploma in forestry and arboriculture
  • NPTC Level 2 Certificate of Competence to climb trees and perform aerial rescue
  • Competence-based Craft-level Awards such as chainsaw assessments & pesticide application
  • NVQ Level 2 in arboriculture.

It may be possible to enter this career through an appropriate Apprenticeship scheme in arboriculture. Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer and, from August 2009, pay at least £95 a week. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Entry to Employment (e2e) can help prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may be an advantageous qualification to have achieved.

Many tree surgeons start by working as ground staff.

Training

Tree surgeons usually train on the job under the supervision of a manager or another experienced colleague. New workers and tree surgeons must undertake training and obtain the necessary certificates of competency before being able to work with machinery, or on their own. Formal training is also required for the use of pesticides and other chemicals.

There are a number of qualifications which may be offered by employers. These include:

  • NVQs in forestry and arboriculture
  • specialist tree surgery courses offered by a range of colleges
  • horticulture courses which include tree surgery.

The Horticultural Correspondence College offers a Diploma in arboricultural studies. This degree-level course is aimed at those already working in arboriculture.

The Royal Forestry Society, the Arboricultural Association and the Institute of Chartered Foresters can provide details of specialist centres offering professional arboricultural qualifications for workers wishing to develop their skills.

The Arboricultural Association offers membership at a range of levels for those with suitable qualifications and experience. Their website has details of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities such as training workshops, seminars, a trade fair and an annual national conference. The Institute of Chartered Foresters offers the opportunity to become a Chartered Forester.

Getting on

Some tree surgeons with a range of skills and experience become self-employed and run their own businesses. They may also progress to supervisory or management level. The Arboricultural Association runs an Approved Contractor scheme, assessing and certificating the competence of tree work companies. It is recognised by many local authorities and other employers as the benchmark in arboricultural contract work.

There are sometimes opportunities to work abroad.

Further information

The Arboricultural Association, Ullenwood Court, Ullenwood, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire GL53 9QS. 01242 522152. Website: www.trees.org.uk

Horticultural Correspondence College, Fiveways House, Westwells Road, Hawthorn, Corsham SN13 9RG. 01225 816700. Website: www.hccollege.co.uk

The Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), 59 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2JG. 0131 240 1425. Website: www.charteredforesters.org

International Society of Arboriculture UK and Ireland, 148 Hydes Road, Wednesbury, West Midlands WS10 0DR. 0121 556 8302. Website: www.isa-arboriculture.org

Landex. Website: www.landex.org.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG. 0845 707 8007. Websites: www.lantra.co.uk, www.lantracoursefinder.co.uk and www.afuturein.com

The Royal Forestry Society (RFS), 102 High Street, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 4AF. 01442 822028. www.rfs.org.uk

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v1.0.

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