What does an arboricultural consultant do?

An arboricultural consultant is trained in carrying out tree assessments and providing reasoned solutions to issues relating to trees.

Their skills are called for when trees are involved in a land development project or when advice on general tree management is needed. 

Other frequently used terms for people who carry out this role include arboricultural surveyors, tree surveyors, tree consultants, and arboriculturalists.

We look at arboricultural consultants’ role in carrying out tree surveys, their skillset, and the equipment they need to do their job.

A tree survey in progress.

Arboricultural consultancy and tree surveys

To obtain planning permission you will need a tree survey if trees are on or close to your site, and possibly other assessments and reports to satisfy your local planning authority. Tree surveys are needed by those in the construction industry, councils managing parks and public gardens, architects, landscape architects, and private individuals.

Arboricultural consultants also carry out tree condition surveys on development land and infrastructure projects, providing a risk assessment and a corresponding arboricultural report.

Tree surveys

An experienced arboricultural consultancy will have qualified tree consultants who can produce high-quality arboricultural reports which will factor in protected trees, trees under statutory protections, or an existing Tree Preservation Order, which makes it a criminal offence to wilfully damage or destroy a tree without the consent of a local planning authority. Tree consultants will also assess single trees in a conservation area, the physiological and structural condition of individual trees, observe rules around woodland management, and provide advice and solutions to reduce risk.

A pre-established grading system will be used to determine the condition and quality of each tree. The results form the basis for the tree consultant’s decisions and recommendations on the management of trees to local authorities.

Tree consultants must observe several legal provisions for the protection of trees, namely The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 which ensures that certain animal species and habitats are protected, the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, and the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.

Tree consultancy services

An arboricultural consultancy with extensive experience will offer several core services to help clients with projects ranging from planning applications for private development schemes to commercial developments. They will also provide advice on tree care to members of the general public.

Stage 1 survey

The baseline British Standard arboricultural assessment, a BS5837 tree survey, is a stage 1 survey. It provides an assessment of tree health on a site before developing effective measures to progress the development, taking the trees into account. It considers the life expectancy of trees, evidence of tree pests, signs of tree failure, and hazards created by the physiological condition of trees. The consultant will then produce a tree management plan for each tree, ranging from retention on-site to moving them elsewhere or destroying them.

Stage 2 survey

Following a BS5837 survey, a more extensive tree survey may be requested by a local planning authority. This Stage 2 tree survey involves an Arboricultural Impact Assessment (AIA), method statement, and tree protection plan. It will consider above and below ground conflicts and potential future problems with trees caused by shading and leaf litter which could mean they need to be removed in the future.

Stage 3 survey

A local planning authority could also request a Stage 3 survey if it considers the AIA findings to be unsatisfactory. A Stage 3 tree survey involves periodic inspection and monitoring of trees on the site. Tree surveys must be carried out in the above numerical order.

Tree consultants need a wide range of skills

Arboricultural consultants have recognised qualifications in arboriculture and experience in woodland, environmental and tree management. As well as being tree experts, they are also knowledgeable about perennial plants and shrubs. They must be up to date with the latest standards in the arboricultural industry and understand the requirements of Tree Preservation Orders and tree management in conservation areas.

Arboriculturalists can advise on tree management, provide details about the health of individual trees and those in woodland and amenity areas, and need observation, communication and presentation skills along with the ability to write arboricultural reports to accompany planning applications. Writing an arboricultural report involves recording details of the survey and methods used to conduct it, along with recommendations to advise the relevant local planning authority or person commissioning the survey, on sound tree management on the site. An arboricultural report must be supported by relevant imagery including maps, graphs and pictures to clarify the proposed mitigation measures to the local authority and increase the likelihood of obtaining planning consent.

Who does the arboricultural consultant role appeal to?

People with a desire to work outdoors and not be deterred by working in poor weather conditions are attracted to work as arboricultural consultants. It also helps if they are physically fit as reaching high into trees is a big part of the job, as is being comfortable working with heights.

Basic equipment used by tree consultants:

  • Climbing equipment.
  • Ladders.
  • Tape measures to calculate tree trunk circumferences.
  • Binoculars.
  • A compass for assessing the location of each tree.
  • Clipboard.
  • Camera.

Further equipment may be needed such as:

According to the individual site, an acoustic hammer, a digital/electronic survey data device, a height measuring device, a laser probe, or a laser range finder may be required. If a surveyor needs to take samples from the site, they may need pruning swords, secateurs and trowels.

Appropriate clothing for arborical consultants:

This comprises high visibility jackets and personal protection equipment including a helmet, boots and Wellingtons.

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