Tree Surgeon

The Job and What's Involved

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 make sure a work site is safe by keeping people and vehicles away, and assist tree surgeons by passing tools, refueling 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.

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 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 each day, 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.

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.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

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 website's. The Arboricultural Association newsletter and website and the trade magazines Horticulture Week and Treeline have job vacancy information.

Education and Training

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.
  • The Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Level 2 Certificate in arboriculture offered through the Horticultural Correspondence College.

It is also possible to enter this career through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

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

The Diploma in environmental and land-based studies may be relevant for this work.

Some tree surgeons start by working as ground staff.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

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:

  • NVQ's 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 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.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

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.

Your Long Term Prospects

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.

Get Further Information

The Arboricultural Association,
Ullenwood Court, Ullenwood,
Gloucestershire GL53 9QS
Tel: 01242 522152

Horticultural Correspondence College,
Fiveways House, Westwells Road,
Hawthorn, Corsham SN13 9RG
Tel: 01225 816700

The Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF),
59 George Street, Edinburgh EH2 2JG
Tel: 0131 240 1425


Lantra, Lantra House,
Stoneleigh Park, near Coventry,
Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 0845 707 8007
Website: and

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

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