If you pursue a career as a tree surgeon (a.k.a. arboriculturalist), you won’t be wearing scrubs, working in an operating theatre and asking somebody to pass you a scalpel – you’ll be wearing a hard hat, climbing a tree and asking your supervisor to pass you a chainsaw!
Tree surgeons are the dynamic chaps and chapettes who cultivate, manage, prune, fell, chop, clip, crown and treat Britain’s trees. Working in all kinds of locations, from city parks to romantic copses, this lot play a vital role in preserving, protecting and removing hedges, shrubs, bushes and trees.
Using heavy-duty machinery, such as chainsaws, secateurs and chippers, these woodland wardens conduct hands-on maintenance of trees, but they also engage in the preservation and conservation of woodland.
Indeed, a career as an arboriculturalist is not just about climbing trees, hanging from ropes and hacking off branches. Tree surgeons use their expert knowledge of trees to conduct inspections, plan practical work, and provide advice to organisations that are looking to develop certain areas of land where trees may be affected.
Particularly as you advance into managerial roles, you will be required to get involved with the business side of arboriculture, handling contracts, engaging in negotiations with potential clients and training junior members of staff.
Salary & benefits
Entry-level tree surgeons, working as assistants or technicians, tend to earn between £12,500 and £16,000 per annum, while annual salaries for experienced arboriculturalists can increase to around £22,000.
Tree surgeons who progress into senior managerial roles can earn up to £30,000 a year.
Understandably, this isn’t your average nine-to-five office job. The majority of your work will be done outside in parks, gardens, forests, recreational areas and other locations where trees need to be clipped, chopped or pruned.
Tree surgeons tend to work between 37 and 45 hours a week, but understandably the specific working hours will vary depending on various factors. Indeed, your daily start and finish times will be determined by what season it is and when night falls. After all, you can’t use a chainsaw in the dark!
A certain amount of travel is involved, as tree surgeons are regularly required to travel to various different locations within their region. Occasionally, tree surgeons will be asked to respond to emergency situations. Consequently, you may be required to work at the weekend from time to time.
Since your job will occasionally involve climbing and using dangerous machinery, a certain amount of risk is involved. However, you will always be required to wear protective clothing and you’ll have to undergo rigorous safety training before you are unleashed with a chainsaw.
Although you can study degrees in arboriculture, forestry and horticulture at various institutions across the UK (check out our Courses section for more details), this is by no means an essential requirement for aspiring tree surgeons.
The majority of employers will prefer candidates with five GCSEs (A*-C), but there are actually no set entry requirements for this profession.
However, if you want to climb the career ladder more quickly, it may be advisable to study a relevant qualification. For instance, you could do an NVQ Level 2 or a BTEC in arboriculture.
Alternatively, you could do an NPTC Level 2 Certificate of Competence, which proves your ability to climb trees and successfully perform rescue operations for your team members if they are in trouble.
Many young tree surgeons also enter this line of work via an apprenticeship scheme.
If you do decide to take the university route and complete a BSc or MSc in a subject related to arboriculture, you may have the opportunity to start your career in a more senior position, perhaps as a supervisor or technical manager.
Working as a tree surgeon can be demanding, so you will need to be reasonably physically fit. If you’re going to be climbing trees, you’ll also need a head for heights!
Training & progression
The majority of the training you’ll receive as an assistant tree surgeon will be given ‘on-the-job’. However, if you enter this career via an apprenticeship, part of your training is likely to involve a taught course element at a local further education college.
As you progress in your career, you will most likely move into a supervisory or managerial position. You can, however, take a different route and become a freelance arboriculturalist, working as a contractor for different companies and local councils.
Alternatively, once you’ve gained plenty of experience, you could become a course leader in a college, teaching the next generation of tree surgeons. You could also eventually branch out (pardon the pun!) into related fields and begin a career in forestry management, for instance.