Our guide to tree surgery
Alistair Stafford

Our guide to tree surgery

Published November 19 2013

You may not know the difference between oak and willow, or how vitally important trees are to our everyday life. Not only do trees provide us with oxygen, they also reduce the impact of the ‘greenhouse effect’ and act as a natural flood protection – so it’s crucial that they’re looked after correctly.

Want to save money when it comes to preserving the trees around your house? Or perhaps you’re looking to switch jobs to an industry more suited to your physical strength? Whether you’re a homeowner looking for the skills to maintain the trees in your garden or somebody keen to pursue a career in arboriculture, a tree surgery course could be for you.


Why they’re needed

The St Jude’s day storm was the latest in a long line of weather events where powerful winds have damaged or knocked down trees, making the role of a tree surgeon hugely valuable. Without their work clearing roads and rail lines in all elements at all hours of the day, travel disruption would be even worse during stormy weather. It may seem pretty straight forward climbing up a tree and chopping it down bit by bit, but it actually involves a huge amount of technical knowledge and detail to ensure that it’s done safely.


What a tree surgeon does

There are many different roles that an arborist (the technical term for people working with trees) may have to do as part of the job:

. Felling- The most hazardous job of the lot, where a surgeon will use a rigging system or crane to climb a tree then dismantle it in sections. Sometimes, if space allows, a tree can be felled without being split in to chunks.

. Crown Reduction- Where a tree has the overall size of it reduced, or in some cases cut down completely and replanted, if it has outgrown the space it’s meant to have.

. Crown lifting – This is where they cut back branches all the way to the stem, to keep the tree from overreaching onto a path, road or somewhere else unwanted.

. Pruning – In this role, a tree surgeon makes tweaks to a young, growing tree, so that it grows in a particular way and is less vulnerable to weather damage.


Things to look out for

While some courses will give a general overview of the brief skills used in tree surgery, many will provide industry recognised qualifications to prepare you for a career in arboristry. The NPTC (National Proficiency Test Council) accredits various levels of qualifications for tree work and includes specialist courses in both chainsaw operations and tree climbing. Taking these can help progress towards more advanced qualifications, helping you work in the industry-wide ‘British Standard’ – something extremely useful if you’re hoping to work as a tree surgeon.


Is it for me?

If you haven’t climbed a tree since your childhood or haven’t got any qualifications handling machinery, don’t despair, as providing you’re physically fit and healthy it’s not too late to start training to be a tree surgeon. You’ll have to be prepared to work in all conditions (unfortunately ‘fair weather’ tree surgeon jobs don’t exist!) and also be happy to work in a potentially dangerous environment at considerable heights.


Tree trivia

You may live in a busy city centre or in the remote countryside far away from a picturesque forest, so could be very surprised to know how many trees we actually have not just here in the UK, but further afield too:

. Around 30% of the Earth’s land area is covered by trees (that’s more than 60 times the size of the United Kingdom!)

. The world's tallest tree is a Coast Redwood in California, which has been measured at 360ft (about the same height as London’s St Paul’s Cathedral)

. The UK is home to more than 3.8 billion trees, with over half of those situated in Scotland.

. There’s over 70 types of tree and shrub that can be found in the UK (don’t worry; we’re not going to test you on them all).

. During the famous ‘Great storm’ of 1987, approximately 15 million trees were lost in the hurricane force winds.

Sources: Forestry UK and the Woodland Trust


What to do next

A tree surgery course doesn’t necessarily limit you to a job as an arboriculturist, with various other career options available involving tree work. A forest worker deals with planting and maintaining new trees, while a forest officer works at managing how the area used and how it is developed. It’s not just those, as the qualifications you will have gained from your course will often be transferable for use in other agricultural careers.

If you’re still unsure whether tree surgery is for you, then reading the expert views of someone who has spent 25 years in the profession may help you make that decision. 

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