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Career Advice

How to Become a Tree Surgeon

tree surgeonIf you are someone who isn’t afraid to work at heights, likes being outdoors and doesn’t mind the sight of all that sap, then you might just be the right sort of candidate for a career as a tree surgeon. If this doesn’t sound like you then you are probably barking up the wrong tree (our apologies in advance for the number of arboreal puns which follow).

We have all seen tree surgeons at work, especially during the autumn and winter when nervous councils and property owners rush to make safe their gardens and streets ahead of the inevitable storms which will ensue. But the work of a tree surgeon has many more facets than simply chopping branches off ominously swaying trees, but what exactly is a tree surgeon, what do they do and how can you become one?

Hopefully our quick guide to will help you get to the roots of the issue.

What is a tree surgeon?

A tree surgeon is a person who works in the planting, maintenance and removal of trees, shrubs and large plants. Less commonly referred to as ‘tree climbers’ and ‘aborealists’ they undertake a wide variety of activities associated with trees within both the urban and rural environment.  Some of the things that you could be expected to carry out on a daily basis include;

  • Undertaking inspections of trees and shrubs to ascertain a number of factors including (but not limited to) health and safety, ecological effects, tree health and pest infestation.
  • Tree pruning and branch removal
  • The removal or ‘felling’ of trees which pose a health and safety risk or are having an adverse effect of the ecological or built environment.
  • The planting of saplings and young trees especially within public spaces such as parks.
  • Carrying out pest control procedures.
  • Regularly working at heights
  • Safe operation of a wide range of equipment including ladders, ropes chainsaws, harnesses and elevated platforms (which are more commonly known as cherry pickers)

Type of person

There are clearly a lot of variables involved in the role of tree surgeon, which means that the activities you will be required to carry out out on a day to day basis will be fittingly diverse. It is rather important therefore that you are a person who can meet challenges head on and is willing to be flexible in the work that they carry out..  Of course there are a number of other skills and personal attributes which can help ensure that you have a long and successful career as a tree surgeon, some of these include;

  • Being willing to work outdoors, which in the UK means operating under some truly awful weather conditions including blistering cold, torrential rain and searing heat.
  • You must have a high level of physical fitness since the role requires a moderate degree of physical activity including climbing and lifting.
  • You must be willing and able to work at heights- of course this doesn’t mean that anyone with a healthy fear of heights is automatically excluded from the role- as any tree surgeon will tell you, a little fear helps keep you safe in the beginning and will diminish as with increased experience.
  • You should be someone who has an interest in the environment and especially conservation and trees.
  • A high level of dexterity and the desire to carry out manual tasks is also very beneficial
  • You must be someone who is able to effectively and accurately read maps and plans
  • A very high level of health and safety awareness is absolutely crucial when working within such a potentially dangerous role.
  • You will be working as a member of a team so it is essential that you have great communication and interpersonal skills.

This list could go on on and on but the point is that the work of a tree surgeon requires a whole range of skills and attributes which goes far and beyond simply being good at cutting branches off trees.

treesSalary and Working Hours

The hours that you will work and level of salary that you can expect to receive will largely depend of the amount of experience that you have and whether you are working on a self-employed basis or a staff member of a company. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that you have just begun your career as a tree surgeon and are working for a specialist tree surgeon business.

You can expect to work a fairly typical week, which will will include Monday – Friday from around 9am – 5pm, however there will also be times where you are expected to work on an ‘emergency basis’ such as before and after a storm which could see you working anti-social hours such as weekends and nights.

As an inexperienced tree surgeon, you can expect to receive a salary of around £16,000 per annum although this may vary depending on who employs you. As with most roles as your career progresses and you continue to gain a higher level of skill and expertise you can expect your salary will rise accordingly. As a well experienced tree surgeon (after around 5 years of working in the role) you should normally expect to receive £21,000 to £25.000 per year, although again this is subject to employer discretion.

Qualifications and Experience

There are a number of routes towards becoming a tree surgeon, none of which is a definitive ‘how to’ guide but they will at least give you an idea of the journey you can expect to make.

Many people who end up in the role have not begun their career in the field, but have previous experience of working in related roles such as gardener, groundskeeper and outdoor maintenance staff.  Many also begin their career by working for a tree specialist in the role of ground worker, which is a person who provides help and support to tree surgeons working with chainsaws, chippers and grinders and helping to clear away branches and trees which have been cut.

Like so many roles, there is no minimum level of qualification which is required to become a tree surgeon, although there are a number of courses which will certainly help you to get a job and many employers will expect that you hold them.  Some of these include;

  • Level 2 Certificate in Countryside and Environment
  • Level 2 Diploma in Arboriculture
  • Level 2 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture.

On the whole, most of the training to become a tree surgeon will take place ‘on the job’ once you have secured a place, but you will also be able to complete a number of qualifications and certificates which will memorialise your proficiencies in a number of key competencies. These will usually form an essential part of your career progression and as you gain skills and experience you will also have the opportunity to complete more advanced training in arboriculture, which will help equip you to undertake more senior roles within the field such as supervisor or head surgeon.

For further information on the training and qualifications which are available to people working as tree surgeons (or those planning to in the future) visit the Arboricultural Association website  and the Royal Forestry Society  which are both great sources of information on this and related fields.

Perhaps you have now decided that becoming a tree surgeon isn’t quite for you, then never fear we have plenty more great career guides in our rather fab career directory. Take a look!



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