A career in arboriculture will suit you if you are interested in the care of trees, have a good head for heights and enjoy working outdoors

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.

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

As an arboriculturist, you'll need to:

  • plant trees and shrubs
  • undertake thinning and tree surgery using a range of equipment
  • carry out groundwork using a chainsaw and a chipper
  • select plants and design landscaping schemes
  • apply knowledge of tree biology for effective tree maintenance
  • follow and negotiate clients' requirements
  • manage tree care and tree-planting contracts
  • carry out tree inspections and surveys
  • write reports for engineers, solicitors, mortgage and insurance companies, provide information relating to trees, for example if a tree root system is damaging, or likely to damage, a building or cause subsidence
  • review and respond to planning applications
  • provide training for junior colleagues and volunteers
  • conduct development site surveys and give 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
  • reclaim abandoned industrial sites - if required
  • prune tree growth away from electrical cables and public access routes - where necessary
  • develop practical solutions to environmental issues
  • advise on suitable trees for development sites.

Salary

  • Arborist, arborist craftsperson and 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 or arboricultural officers can expect a salary in the region of £22,000 to £30,000.
  • Supervisory and 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 and 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.
  • The role can be physically demanding, especially in more junior/trainee positions. A good head for heights is needed and 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

A degree is not essential, but without one you would need to have successfully completed several of the NPTC assessment units and have around three years' experience.

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:

  • agriculture
  • arboriculture
  • biology
  • ecology
  • forestry
  • horticulture/plant sciences
  • land/estate/property management
  • woodland ecology and conservation.

Graduates from other disciplines can apply if they possess relevant experience, especially at arborist and craft level. Some forestry or horticultural HNDs and foundation degrees offer 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.

The University of Aberdeen runs an MSc in Environmental and Forest Management. Other institutions, such as Bangor University and the University of Cumbria offer Masters courses and research opportunities specialising in environmental forestry, agroforestry, forest ecosystem management, sustainable tropical forestry, and conservation and forest protection.

Further information about qualifications and course providers is available from The Arboricultural Association and the Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF). The Arboricultural Association also produces a free guide - A Guide to Qualifications and Careers in Arboriculture - which you can download from the website.

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.

You can find general information about a career in arboriculture on the Forestry Commission and Lantra: The Sector Skills Council for the Environmental and Land-based Sector websites.

Skills

You will need to have:

  • a good level of physical fitness
  • a clean driving licence
  • confidence working at heights
  • an aptitude for outdoor pursuits.

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

Employers

Typical employers include:

  • commercial tree care companies
  • local authority planning and environment departments employing arboriculture or tree preservation officers
  • conservation organisations, such as the National Trust, covering England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the National Trust for Scotland and English Heritage
  • government departments, in particular the Forestry Commission
  • botanic gardens, such as the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
  • universities, colleges and schools - for teaching posts.

You may be able to find work overseas, 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.

Look for job vacancies at:

Professional development

Craftspeople can progress to more experienced 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 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. The National Association of Tree Officers provides support and information to tree officers through its corporate membership - available to local authorities in the UK.

Career prospects

Your progression route will depend on your starting point, but if you take the academic, vocational and professional training available, the following opportunities are likely:

  • arborist, arborist craftsperson and arboricultural assistant - usually with a commercial tree care company, commercial contracting company or local authority
  • tree officer, arboricultural officer - maintaining and managing trees for local councils or arboricultural contractors, advising on planning applications and supervising tree care work
  • arboriculturist supervisor - supervising tree care work and in larger companies assisting with the management of arboriculture teams
  • arboriculture contractor - working at a more managerial level for a professional tree surgery company.

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, while 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 Arboricultural Association and Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF). As well as providing structured progression routes, membership provides valuable networking opportunities and professional recognition.