Arboriculturists cultivate and manage trees, hedgerows and shrubs. The work is undertaken in both rural and urban settings and includes all aspects of felling, preserving, planting and protecting trees, sometimes using heavy equipment.

They also provide information and advice on specific tree-related issues. There is an increasing focus on maintaining a safe relationship between the trees, their immediate environment and the general public.

Advances in tree biology, equipment and techniques have resulted in fundamental changes to traditional tree work practices, and arboriculture has moved away from the 'tree surgery' approach to a 'tree care' approach.

Types of arboriculturist

Arboriculturists usually specialise in a particular area of work, such as:

  • tree climbing and maintenance;
  • tree preservation and conservation;
  • parks and gardens;
  • planning;
  • tree survey and inspection.

Arboriculturists who do only hands-on tree and shrub maintenance may be called arborists.

Responsibilities

Tasks vary between specific areas of arboriculture.

An arborist works at a practical level and visits a range of sites in order to:

  • plant trees and shrubs;
  • undertake thinning and tree surgery using a range of equipment;
  • carry out groundwork using a chainsaw and a chipper.

An arboriculturist may be involved in the same activities as an arborist, but works at a supervisory/managerial level and will be involved in:

  • selecting plants and designing landscaping schemes;
  • applying knowledge of tree biology for effective tree maintenance;
  • following and negotiating clients' requirements;
  • managing tree care and tree-planting contracts;
  • carrying out tree inspections and surveys;
  • writing reports for engineers, solicitors, mortgage and insurance companies, providing information relating to trees, for example if a tree root system is damaging, or likely to damage, a building or cause subsidence;
  • reviewing and responding to planning applications;
  • providing training for junior colleagues and volunteers;
  • conducting development site surveys and giving pre-planning advice on topics such as the effect a proposed development may have on trees in the area and how best to retain them and incorporate them into the finished project.

In urban areas, the work involves improving the relationship between the environment and urban development through activities such as:

  • reclaiming abandoned industrial sites;
  • pruning tree growth away from electrical cables and public access routes;
  • developing practical solutions to environmental issues;
  • advising on suitable trees for development sites.

Salary

  • Arborist/assistant/technician level jobs attract starting salaries of around £15,000, possibly rising to £21,000. Some entry-level arborist positions are short term only and may be paid weekly or even on a daily rate.
  • Skilled aborists can expect a salary in the region of £22,000 to £30,000.
  • Supervisory/managerial level jobs, such as a tree preservation officer, can attract salaries of between £25,000 and £30,000.

With substantial experience it may be possible to secure an academic job, such as head of school, and this may attract a higher salary.

Salaries vary depending on experience, the type of work and the location. Managerial/consultancy roles offer the highest salaries, as do jobs in the South East.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Hours vary according to the nature of the employer, the contract, location of the job or employer, and whether or not you are self-employed. It is not uncommon to work evenings and weekends. Part-time work is more likely in the public sector.

What to expect

  • Self-employment and freelance work are often possible. This is mainly at contractor level, with a high demand for skilled tree climbers, and at consultant level (possible after developing specialist knowledge and gaining adequate experience).
  • Women are currently under-represented in this profession, although the number of female entrants is increasing, especially at arboriculturist level.
  • There are good employment opportunities for skilled and qualified people. Expansion within the arboriculture industry has led to a significant increase in demand for arboriculture specialists who can work alongside allied professionals such as planners, landscape architects and environmental consultants. Competition is strong for work within well-established companies.
  • A good head for heights is required for jobs that require tree climbing. For an arborist, the ability to climb safely is essential, and employers will require proof of this in the form of certification and possibly a climbing test at interview.
  • The role can be physically demanding, especially in more junior/trainee positions. The high-risk nature of the work means insurance costs can be very high for self-employed arborists and arboriculturists.
  • There is frequent travel within the working day with occasional overnight absence from home.

Qualifications

Relevant degree and HND subjects include life sciences, agricultural and horticultural sciences, and urban and land studies.

In particular, the following subjects may improve your chances:

  • arboriculture;
  • agriculture;
  • forestry;
  • horticulture/plant sciences;
  • land/estate/property management;
  • ecology;
  • biology.

Apart from arboriculture and forestry courses, the relevance of a degree depends on course content.

Graduates from other disciplines can apply if they possess relevant experience, especially at arborist/craft level.

Some forestry or horticultural HNDs and foundation degrees offer options/modules of relevance to arboriculture, such as urban forestry or woodland management.

A BSc and foundation degree course in arboriculture are provided by specialist institutions, such as Myerscough College. The college and other providers offer the National Diploma in Arboriculture, one of the key recognised qualifications in the field. Myerscough also provides the Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Certificate in Arboriculture for individuals already employed in the industry.

A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but could be advantageous. Myerscough College offers an MSc/PG Diploma in arboriculture and urban forestry.

An MSc course in forestry is run by the University of Aberdeen. Other institutions offer Masters courses and research opportunities specialising in environmental forestry, agroforestry, forest ecosystem management, sustainable tropical forestry, and conservation and forest protection. These institutions include:

The Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF) provides details of ICF-validated courses on its website and runs a Prince of Wales Forest Leadership Award, offering selected UK students the opportunity to take part in a work placement exchange with Canada. For details see the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF).

Details of arboriculture qualifications and course providers are available from the Arboricultural Association.

Certificates of competence, which are now legally required if you are to practise skills such as operating a chainsaw are provided by the City & Guilds Land Based Services.

Further career information can be found on:

The Arboricultural Association produces A Guide to Qualifications and Careers in Arboriculture, which is free to download from their website.

Skills

You will need to have a good level of physical fitness, a clean driving licence and confidence working at heights. An aptitude for outdoor pursuits is desirable. Specialist climbing work is sometimes necessary.

Work experience

Pre-entry experience in areas such as project work (landscaping and urban reclamation), tree maintenance or planting work is essential. Conservation organisations and charities may offer voluntary work.

After gaining some direct or related experience, it is advisable to look for a trainee post as an arboricultural assistant with an employer willing to provide the necessary training, support or additional experience.

Experience in nursery production of trees and shrubs is considered particularly valuable as it means you have learnt to identify the different types.

Employers

Typical employers of qualified arboriculturists and arborists include:

  • commercial tree care companies employing their own staff, as well as freelance professionals, carrying out a range of work for a mixture of domestic and business clients (e.g. management of trees in gardens, undertaking tree felling for county councils, or routine tree maintenance for universities);
  • conservation organisations, such as the National Trust, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the National Trust for Scotland and English Heritage, who own areas of land needing tree maintenance;
  • government departments, in particular the Forestry Commission;
  • botanic gardens, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, who employ their own arborists and arboriculturists, and arboreta;
  • universities, colleges and schools;
  • local authority planning and environment departments employing arboriculture or tree preservation officers.

The work in this setting is often less hands-on than in other roles and can involve:

  • site visits;
  • tree surveys to assess health and safety;
  • recording tree locations;
  • answering enquiries from the public;
  • planning tree planting schemes;
  • overseeing contractors' work.

Overseas work or travel is possible, especially where there is extensive timber production, for example in New Zealand, Canada and Scandinavia.

Self-employment is another option, either as a craftsperson or as a consultant working for a variety of clients, such as domestic sites, private estates or businesses.

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Professional development

Graduates in related disciplines can start as technical managers or supervisors, although a relevant course such as a BSc (Hons) or National Certificate in Arboriculture is usually required.

Craftspeople can progress to these posts with vocational qualifications such as the RFS Certificate in Arboriculture, which combines written and practical elements with experience.

An arborist certification programme is provided by the International Society of Arboriculture. Specialist institutions offer a range of training courses enabling you to progress through different levels.

The ISA also offers a certification path allowing you to gain a certified status that will give you a competitive edge in your career.

The training and development available to you will depend on your individual employer but you may be able to source training outside of your employment if necessary in order to enhance your skills.

The relevant professional bodies provide seminars and other continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. Specialist institutions, such as Myerscough College, provide short training courses to enable arborists, arboriculturists and professionals in related areas to develop their skills. These include areas such as woodland management and tree hazard evaluation.

Career prospects

Progression routes will depend on the point at which you enter the field but those who undertake the academic, vocational and professional training available can expect to progress their careers in the following order:

  • arborist craftsperson;
  • arboriculturist supervisor;
  • arboriculture manager.

A range of opportunities exist within this career structure for individuals with the right combination of qualifications and experience.

Entry to the profession is usually as an arborist or arboricultural assistant with a commercial tree care company, commercial contracting company or local authority.

With necessary experience, certificates of competence and vocational qualifications, it is possible to progress to management, specialist or consultancy work.

Many qualified arboriculturists progress to running their own consultancies, whilst others gain work as arboriculture managers, working in areas such as utility arboriculture and community woodlands.

Career development at higher levels may be helped through membership of the relevant professional bodies, such as the:

As well as providing structured progression routes, membership provides valuable networking opportunities and professional recognition. Membership of other organisations may be beneficial and, in some cases, may be a prerequisite for sitting their examinations.