Advice for Aspiring Tree Surgeons

Career advisors » The Path to Becoming a Tree Surgeon

A tree surgeon may also be referred to as an arborist, arboriculturist, or tree climber. A grounds person is someone who only works on the ground. Tree surgery is a highly specialized job that necessitates proof of the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience.

A tree surgeon, as the name implies, works on trees by identifying hazards, assessing tree health, planting, felling, pruning, and maintaining them. They can work at various heights by using tools such as a rope and harness or mobile elevated work platforms. The role also includes administrative duties such as report writing.

The primary goal of a tree surgeon's job is to care for trees, improve their health, and preserve them as much as possible while not disturbing or harming wildlife. Another goal is to protect people and property from being harmed by dangerous trees. Overall, tree surgery is concerned with the long-term management of trees.

A tree surgeon will interact with a wide range of clients (both domestic and commercial) and colleagues. They may also be required to communicate with charities, local governments, highways, electrical companies, contractors, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Some tree surgeons work for small businesses, but others can work for larger corporations with hundreds of employees. Some tree surgeons may choose to start their own businesses and work for themselves.


Tree surgery is a highly skilled occupation, and tree surgeons have a wide range of responsibilities, which may include (but are not limited to):

  • Tree inspection and surveying for hazards and damage in the surrounding area
  • Performing risk assessments to determine tree health and treatment
  • Conducting risk assessments for health and safety
  • Landscaping, which includes the planting of trees, hedges, and shrubs
  • Tree, hedge, and shrub trimming and pruning
  • Safely climbing trees and/or using work at height equipment
  • Trees, hedges, and other vegetation are being felled and removed.
  • Stump milling
  • Branch and log cutting and chipping
  • Administrative duties, e.g. g reporting on tree surveys
  • Client liaison, client interaction, and advice
  • Equipment maintenance and servicing, e.g. g log splitters, chainsaws, and chippers
  • Performing pest control
  • Site cleaning and organization
  • Following health and safety regulations as well as other applicable laws
  • Following applicable British Standards
  • Making certain that all necessary insurance is in place and valid
  • Liaison with local governments on tree preservation orders
  • Keeping common tree pathogens, pests, diseases, and disorders at bay
  • Observance of company policies, procedures, and risk assessments
  • Rescues from great heights and first aid

A tree surgeon can expect to work between 41 and 43 hours per week. However, the number of hours is seasonal and weather dependent. It is not a 9 to 5 job and may require working unsociable hours such as evenings, weekends, and bank holidays. However, the majority of work will be done from Monday to Friday.

Some tree work may need to be completed quickly, e.g. g in an emergency situation, such as a tree falling into the road As a result, tree surgeons may be required to be on call.

Tree surgeons' days are never the same, and they must travel to different jobs. They should expect to travel by car to various locations and may have to walk to more difficult-to-access locations. On occasion, they may need to work away from home.


Being a tree surgeon is a demanding but rewarding job. They aid in the preservation and protection of trees, hedges, and other vegetation, which benefits human health, wildlife, and the environment in the long run. Tree work can also protect property and keep people safe in areas where trees are damaged or diseased. Tree surgeons can go home at the end of the day knowing that their work is making a difference.

Tree surgeons will never be bored because their work is varied and they can work in a variety of settings. A new woodland may be planted one day, and a beautiful old oak tree may be pruned the next. The job allows tree surgeons to travel around their region and be outside every day. There might also be opportunities to travel further afield and discover new places.

Even though being a tree surgeon is rewarding, and there are many benefits to the job, they may face challenges, such as:

  • Physical demands - Tree work is a physically demanding job that necessitates a high level of fitness, e.g., a strong back. g climbing, manual handling, and heavy equipment use On the plus side, being fit has numerous health benefits.
  • Risks to one's health and safety - tree surgery is inherently dangerous. As a result, workers will be exposed to a wide range of hazards, including g Working at heights, falling timber and trees, the use of heavy-duty machinery and chainsaws, insects, and weather conditions Tree work can also endanger others. g members of the general public According to the HSE, 24 tree surgeons/arborists have been killed and nearly 1,400 have been injured while working on trees in the last ten years. The dangers of tree work should not be underestimated.
  • Property damage risks - If tree surgery is not carefully planned and executed, there is a risk of property damage. This is also why having the proper insurance is critical.

Working at heights is an essential part of a tree surgeon's job. If a person is not comfortable with aerial aspects of tree work or if they have any medical issues that could endanger themselves or others, tree surgery is not the right career path for them.

Every career path has advantages and disadvantages, and prospective tree surgeons should be aware of these before deciding whether the position is right for them. There is no doubt that tree work is extremely difficult. It is hazardous and physically demanding, necessitating work in all weather conditions and frequently at unsociable hours. However, there are numerous advantages, as trees are vital to humans, flora and fauna, and the overall environment.

Individuals should weigh the benefits and drawbacks of becoming a tree surgeon before making a decision. They should also ensure that they possess the necessary personal qualities to carry out the required role and responsibilities.

A tree surgeon's job is both physically and mentally demanding. It can also be dangerous and stressful, so they must have the right personality traits to succeed in the role.

Personal characteristics required of a tree surgeon include:

  • Enjoy being outside in all weather conditions.
  • A strong passion for nature, ecology, and conservation
  • Tree and other vegetation knowledge, including common pathogens, pests, diseases, and disorders
  • Understanding of tree protection, wildlife protection, and health and safety legislation
  • Excellent risk perception and risk awareness
  • Possessing practical skills and the ability to work effectively with their hands
  • Good written and verbal communication skills
  • Excellent customer service abilities
  • Excellent problem-solving and analytical abilities
  • Map reading abilities
  • Excellent physical abilities, e g physically fit with good movement and coordination
  • Excellent time management
  • Thoroughness and attention to detail
  • Being accountable and diligent
  • Having the fortitude and confidence to perform strenuous work in difficult circumstances
  • Willingness to collaborate and work as part of a team
  • The ability to work under duress while remaining calm in high-stress situations.
  • The ability to use basic IT equipment, e.g. g making reports
  • The ability to use and maintain various tools and machinery
  • Having the fitness and ability to work at heights

There are numerous paths to becoming a tree surgeon. One option is to pursue a relevant university or college degree or to enroll in an apprenticeship.

  • University
  • College
  • Apprenticeship

Course levels include a foundation degree, a higher national diploma, and a degree.

Requirements for entry -

- A foundation degree (one or two A levels or an equivalent qualification).
- A higher national diploma or degree (two or three A levels or equivalent).

Forestry, arboriculture, forest management, woodland ecology and conservation, and countryside management are some examples of courses.

Level 2 and 3 courses are available.

Requirements for Entry
- Level 2 - two or more GCSEs at grades 9 to 3 (A* to D) or equivalent
- Level 3 - four or five GCSEs with grades ranging from 9 to 4 (A* to C) or equivalent

Level 2 Certificate in Arboriculture, Level 2 Work-based Trees and Timber, Level 2 Felling and Processing Trees, and Level 3 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture are some examples of courses.

To become a tree surgeon, you must first complete an apprenticeship.

Some GCSEs, usually including English, Science, and Math, or equivalent, are required for admission.

Opportunities can be found on the Apprenticeships website of the government.

Tree surgeon volunteering to remove branches

There are no formal educational requirements to become a tree surgeon. As a result, obtaining qualifications is not the only path to the position. Some employers, however, may require specific qualifications, e.g. g GCSEs

There may be an opportunity to work as a groundsperson (helping tree surgeons from the ground) and learn on the job. There are also opportunities to participate in relevant training courses while working, for example. g Chainsaws, harnesses, and ropes were used. With the right experience, training, and supervision, on-the-job training can lead to a career as a tree surgeon.

There is no substitute for hands-on experience, and volunteering can also help people understand what goes into tree work and build their knowledge and skills. There are charities, conservation organizations, and horticultural groups that can provide hands-on experience, for example. g The National Trust and the Woodland Trust

Having any relevant work experience, e.g. g Gardening can be beneficial and can aid in the pursuit of a career as a tree surgeon.

Tree surgeon training an apprentice

Learning does not end when a person obtains a qualification. Tree surgeons must have the necessary qualifications as well as training to obtain certificates of competence before they can work at height, with machinery, or on their own.

Short courses earn City & Guilds NPTC certificates of competence. g at a university or an accredited private training facility Relevant courses for tree surgeons include:

  • C30 & 201/202 - Level 2 Certificate of Competence in Chainsaw Maintenance and Cross-cutting
  • C31 & 203 - Level 2 Certificate of Competence in Felling Small Trees Up to 380mm
  • C38 & 206/306 - Level 2 Certificate of Competence in Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue
  • Level 3 Certificate of Competence in Aerial Tree Cutting with a Chainsaw Using Free-fall Techniques - also known as C39 & 308

Lantra also offers comparable courses.

Professional organizations, such as the Arboricultural Association and the Royal Forestry Society, also offer reputable training courses and certification to individuals interested in becoming tree surgeons and advancing their careers.

Other pertinent training

Tree surgeons may also benefit from the following training:

  • Workplace first aid
  • Pesticides, for example g PA1 & PA6
  • Certification and card for mobile elevated working platforms (MEWP), e g IPAF
  • Hiab instruction, e g RTITB
  • Additional health and safety training, e.g. g PUWER, LOLER, manual handling, and height work
  • C40 - Level 3 Certificate of Competence in Aerial Tree Pruning
  • C41 - Level 3 Certificate of Competence in Aerial Tree Rigging
  • Lantra equivalent or Level 2 Certificate of Competence in Manually Fed Wood Chipper Operations
  • Sentinel (rail) and CSCS cards
  • Other landscaping, for example g fencing

The type of training required will vary depending on what employers are looking for and the areas of specialization of tree surgeons. It is worthwhile to review several job postings to identify the common training courses required for tree surgeon roles as well as other training required for specialized tasks.

Tree surgeons will have more opportunities if they have more relevant training and competence. Refresher training will also be required because it is a legal requirement under health and safety legislation and keeps knowledge and skills current.


Because tree surgeons will be required to travel to various jobs, a full clean driving license (including categories B and E) is required. Some jobs may also necessitate a towing license (e.g. g to tow machinery such as a chipper) and a category C1 license to drive vehicles weighing up to 7 tons. 5 tonnes

Tree surgeon working in park

Tree surgeons can work for a variety of domestic and commercial clients, including private homeowners and landowners, government agencies, charities, churches, and private businesses.

They will work in a variety of outdoor settings throughout cities, towns, and villages, including:

  • Parks
  • Gardens
  • Recreational facilities
  • Woodlands
  • Forests
  • Car parks
  • Highways, which include streets
  • Towpaths along canals
  • Riverbanks
  • Churchyards
  • Railways

Some locations can be difficult to reach, and the terrain can be difficult. Some work sites may present additional hazards that tree surgeons must be aware of, such as g vehicles on the road

Tree surgeons can expect to work in all weather conditions and frequently at heights. Tree work can be noisy, dusty, and filthy. Individuals must therefore be at ease wearing heavy personal protective equipment and safety gear.

Tree surgeon cutting down branches

A tree surgeon's salary is determined by their qualifications, experience, location, and whether or not they choose to work for themselves.

An entry-level tree surgeon's starting salary will be around £16,000 per year for someone with little or no experience.

The more qualifications and experience a tree surgeon has, the higher their salary. A senior tree surgeon can earn up to £30,000 per year and as much as £45,000 per year in some cases (depending on location). A tree surgeon's annual salary is on average £25,000.

As an apprentice, your salary will be determined by your age and the length of time you have been in your apprenticeship. Some employers will pay apprentice tree surgeons/arborists £200-£300 per week.

Wood logs stacked up from tree

Tree surgery involves a wide range of techniques. As a result, there are numerous opportunities for tree surgeons to specialize in various aspects of tree surgery, such as (this is not an exhaustive list):

  • Crown lifting entails removing some of the lower branches in order to increase the distance between the lowest branch and the ground, e.g. g keeping them from becoming an impediment or a hazard
  • Crown reduction is the practice of shortening the branches of certain tree species in order to reduce the crown's height or spread.
  • Crown thinning entails carefully selecting and cutting branches to allow the crown to receive more air and light while maintaining its shape.
  • Dead wooding is the removal of dead branches from trees in order to improve their health and prevent them from becoming a hazard to people and property below.
  • Tree felling is the process of cutting down a tree from the ground.
  • Sectional tree felling is the practice of cutting down a tree in sections when the entire tree cannot be felled, e.g. g because of impediments and dangers
  • Limb and branch removal - removal of branches within a crown (not lifting, reducing, or thinning), e.g. g removing a tree from a neighboring property
  • Stump and root removal - after a tree has been completely felled, the remaining stump and roots may need to be removed.
  • Fallen tree removal entails removing trees that have naturally fallen, e.g. g as a result of disease, old age, and high winds
  • Pollarding is the removal of most of the limbs and branches from younger trees.
  • Hedge maintenance entails trimming and sometimes shortening hedges to keep them healthy.
  • Root pruning is the process of cutting back the roots to encourage new root growth.

Different tree work techniques will necessitate a variety of skills. However, most tree surgeons will need to be able to remove and prune trees, perform aerial work, and remove stumps. Any additional areas of expertise required will be determined by what a company seeks in a tree surgeon and the type of work a tree surgeon wishes to perform.

If tree work is not done correctly, it can cause irreversible damage to the tree, promote disease, and increase the risk of the tree harming people or damaging property. As a result, tree surgeons must be competent (knowledge, skills, and experience) to perform the work professionally and safely. They should also be aware of their limitations and refrain from performing techniques if they have not been trained and are not competent.

Tree surgeon inspecting wood worm in logs

Standards, tree work techniques, and laws are all updated on a regular basis. As a result, tree surgeons must stay current on legislative developments and changes in order to remain legally compliant and perform tree work correctly and safely. CPD provides tree surgeons with the knowledge and skills they need to keep up with these changes and understand their responsibilities. It also helps them advance in their careers.

Joining a professional organization can help both prospective and current tree surgeons improve their skills and their overall career prospects. The Arboricultural Association and the Royal Forestry Society both provide various levels of membership, CPD, and access to industry contacts and networking events.

There are numerous opportunities for advancement in the industry. A tree surgeon can advance in his or her career by gaining more qualifications and experience. Alternatively, they could start their own tree service company and work for themselves.

Having knowledge and skills related to tree surgery, e.g. g Climbing with harnesses and ropes can lead to a career in a variety of industries. For example, running outdoor activities such as treetop ropes courses and even wood carving

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