Arboricultural Worker/Tree Surgeon

The Job and What's Involved

Arboricultural workers/tree surgeons work with trees and shrubs in cities, the countryside and conservation areas. They work as planters, climbers/tree surgeons or ground staff.

Their main tasks may include:

  • Planting trees and shrubs following the instructions of an arboriculturist or landscaper.
  • Pruning trees, removing diseased or weakened branches, and cutting down dead trees and those that are a danger to the public.
  • Making sure a work site is safe by keeping people and vehicles away from it, and helping tree surgeons by passing tools, refuelling chainsaws and clearing away dead branches and debris.
  • Preparing sites for new trees and shrubs and applying pesticides and fertilisers.

Arboricultural workers might do some or all of these activities.

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

Arboricultural workers/tree surgeons usually work around 35 to 40 hours a week, 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 they might be exposed to sawdust and fumes from tools, pesticides and fertilisers. Arboricultural workers/tree surgeons wear protective clothing such as helmets, ear protectors and chainsaw protective boots, trousers and gloves. Climbers/tree surgeons use specialist rope access and positioning systems. Some employers provide the protective clothing needed for the job.

Arboricultural workers/tree surgeons work as part of a team. They may need to travel up to 50 miles from their base to where they work, but employers usually provide transport. Occasional periods may be spent away from home.

The starting salary for an arboricultural worker/tree surgeon may be around £12,000 a year. Experienced arboricultural worker/tree surgeons may earn between £14,000 and £24,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Work in arboriculture is expanding as interest in the environment and conservation of the countryside and woodlands grows.

Arboricultural workers/tree surgeons work for local government, organisations such as The National Trust and The Forestry Commission, 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, especially south east England, there is a shortage of climbers/tree surgeons.

Jobs may be advertised in local newspapers and on websites that hold details of public sector vacancies. The Arboricultural Association newsletter and website have job vacancy information, as do the trade magazines Horticulture Week and Treeline.

Education and Training

Although there are no set academic entry requirements, some employers may prefer people with some GCSEs/S grades. Applicants need to be physically fit. It also helps 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
Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Arboriculture
Arboricultural Association Technicians Certificate in Arboriculture
Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Certificate in Arboriculture

For some of these courses the entry requirements are at least four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3).

The National Proficiency Training Council (NPTC) and Scottish Skills Testing Service (SSTS) award competency certificates for chainsaw and tree machinery operators, as well as in pesticide application. These organisations, or local agricultural/horticultural colleges, can provide more information.

Apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out which one is most appropriate log onto or contact your local Connexions Partnership.

It is important to bear in mind that pay rates for Apprenticeships do vary from area to area and between industry sectors.

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact COIU

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Arboricultural workers usually train on the job under the supervision of a manager or another experienced colleague. New workers and tree surgeons must get the National Proficiency Training Council or Scottish Skills Testing Service competency certificates before being able to work with machinery, or on their own.

NVQs/SVQs are available in Forestry and Arboriculture at Levels 1 and 2. These qualifications can be worked towards while in a job, and include workplace assessment.

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

The Arboricultural Association also runs training workshops, seminars, a trade fair, and an annual national conference.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An arboricultural worker/tree surgeon should:

  • Enjoy working outdoors.
  • Be practical and good at working with their hands.
  • Be physically fit, with a good head for heights where necessary.
  • Be interested in conserving and improving the environment.
  • Be able to work safely.
  • Be responsible and diligent.
  • Enjoy working as part of a team.
  • Have good communication skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

There may be promotion opportunities, especially in larger organisations, to senior arboricultural worker, supervisor or manager.

Some arboricultural workers/tree surgeons with a range of skills and experience become self-employed and run their own businesses. 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 overseas in places such as Europe, Australia and the USA.

Get Further Information

The Arboricultural Association,
Ampfield House, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 9PA
Tel: 01794 368717

Horticultural Correspondence College,
Fiveways House, Westwells Road, Hawthorn, Corsham SN13 9RG
Tel: 01249 730326

International Society of Arboriculture, UK and Ireland Chapter,
148 Hydes Road, Wednesbury, West Midlands WS10 0DR
Tel: 0121 556 8302

Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF),
7a St Colme Street, Edinburgh EH3 6AA
Tel: 0131 225 2705

Lantra, Lantra House,
Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7669 6996

National Proficiency Training Council (NPTC),
Stoneleigh Park, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 024 7685 7300

The Royal Forestry Society,
102 High Street, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 4AF
Tel: 01442 822028

The Royal Scottish Forestry Society
Tel: 01671 401591

Scottish Skills Testing Service, Skills Testing Centre,
Young Farmers Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh EH28 8NE
Tel: 0131 333 2040

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