What does the job of an arboriculturist involve?

A love of working outdoors and a desire to protect trees in their many different environments is what motivates most people to become arboriculturists.

The job title covers a broad range of skills and roles and there are plenty of opportunities within the industry. Arboriculturists work with trees in urban settings as well as in the countryside, and their work includes tree preservation, planting new trees, protecting and physically maintaining trees as well as hedgerows and shrubs.

We look at the different types of arboriculturist, explain what the job involves, and the skills that are needed.

An arboricultural consultant carrying out a tree inspection.

Typical arboriculturist roles

According to the National Careers Service, the job involves:

  • Carrying out inspections to assess tree health.
  • Advising on tree maintenance and other tree-related issues, such as tree safety in their environment, especially in relation to the general public; this may involve observing Tree Preservation Orders, and statutory protection given to trees.
  • Carrying out tree surveys.
  • Assessing tree damage after storms.
  • Managing tree care maintenance contracts.
  • Writing reports for clients.
  • Surveying development sites and providing pre-planning advice on the effect of development on trees and how best to retain them within the project.
  • Advising on suitable trees for proposed developments.
  • Creating reports to support planning applications for submission to local authorities.
  • Selecting trees and shrubs and designing planting schemes for aesthetic purposes.
  • Tree planting and physically maintaining newly planted trees.
  • Woodland management.
  • Carrying out thinning operations and performing tree surgeon work.
Tree health: arborists inspect lichen on a tree trunk.

Different types of arboriculturist

An arboriculturist may choose to specialise in a specific area of tree work, depending on their interests, ranging from tree care to tree biology, tree protection and tree inspections. Roles include working with planning professionals, parks and gardens, tree preservation and conservation bodies, tree surgery or roles in the public sector. It’s worth noting that arboriculturists who specialise in tree and shrub maintenance may be called arborists.

Options include:

Contractor level

This level involves tree climbing and maintenance, and roles could include ground worker, chainsaw operator or contracts manager.

Consultancy

Roles include tree surveyor, arboriculture consultant, senior consultant, and expert witness.

Local authority

Tree surveyor, tree officer (planning)/leisure), and senior tree officer are some of the potential job titles.

Training and education

Jobs in this sector include practical assessor, college lecturer, independent trainer, university lecturer, and practical instructor.

Salary

As a rough guide, the National Careers Service states that entry-level roles start at around £25,000, while senior arboriculturalists with experience can expect to earn around £40,000, depending on experience.

Hours of work

This can vary depending on the nature of your employment, but range roughly from 35-40 hours, and you may be required to work evenings.

Arboriculturist opportunities

There’s a demand for arboriculturist specialists who can work with professionals such as environmental consultants, planners and landscape architects. It is possible to work in a self-employed or freelance capacity, especially at contractor level. There is also a demand across the industry for qualified, skilled tree climbers and tree surgeons with well established companies. While the number of women in the arboricultural world is low, the Women in Arboriculture Working Group is promoting arboriculture as a career.

How to get into arboriculture

Routes include university courses, college courses, an arborist apprenticeship, graduate training schemes, or applying directly for a role.

Qualifications

There are various levels of qualifications. Relevant degree and HND subjects include arboriculture, agriculture, botany, biology, forestry, ecology, horticulture, land or estate management and woodland ecology. Graduates with other degrees may apply if they have relevant experience. While a degree is not essential, without one you need to have completed City & Guilds NPTC assessment units and have several years of experience behind you.

Education and training

The Arboricultural Association monitors standards and training in the sector and provides information on relevant colleges and training providers, as well as publishing A Guide to Qualifications and Careers in Arboriculture. The Institute of Chartered Foresters has advice about education on its website, and membership offers ongoing professional development advice. The Forestry Commission website also has information about a career in arboriculture as does Lantra which provides training for land-based industries.

BSc and foundation degrees in arboriculture are offered by specialist institutions like Myerscough College; other institutions such as Bicton College provide level 2 and 3 courses in forestry and arboriculture; the Royal Forestry Society offers the RFS Certificate in Arboriculture; the University of Aberdeen runs an MSc in environmental management and forest management, and universities such as Bangor University and the University of Cumbria offer environmental and forestry courses.

University courses

Options include a degree or foundation degree in a relevant subject.

College courses

Relevant courses include an HND in, for example, forestry, arboriculture, countryside or forest management, woodland ecology and conservation. Other courses include a level 2 or 3 Certificate in Arboriculture; level 2 or 3 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture or T Level in agriculture, land management and production.

Relevant apprenticeships include:

Arborist level 2 Intermediate Apprenticeship; Arborist level 4 Higher Apprenticeship; Professional Arboriculturist level 6 degree apprenticeship.

Hands-on work

Consider joining an organisation such as a local authority or landscape firm as an assistant arboricultural officer.

Direct application

To be an arboricultural officer, you will need experience in a related role or a recognised qualification.

Volunteer approach

Investigate opportunities with relevant bodies.

Other routes

With a degree in a relevant subject, you could apply for a graduate training scheme place with Forestry England.

The skills needed to be an arboriculturist

  • Physical fitness.
  • A head for heights.
  • A driving licence.
  • Enjoyment of working outdoors.
  • Work experience: a variety of work experience is important, from landscaping work and tree maintenance to planting.

The downsides of the role

  • The job may require travelling long distances.
  • Self-employed arboriculturists will need to factor in high insurance costs.

Typical employers include:

  • Local authority planning and environmental departments.
  • Commercial tree companies.
  • Conservation bodies, such as the National Trust.
  • Government bodies such as the Forestry Commission.
  • Botanic gardens.
  • Universities and colleges (teaching positions).

Career progression

As your career as an arboriculturist develops and you become more senior, you may be interested in work advising on planning applications or supervising tree care operations. You could also specialise in a management role such as woodlands, take on consultant level work, become a local authority officer or take on an academic role. You may also consider becoming a chartered forester or chartered arboriculturist.

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