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Becoming an Arborist

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Becoming an Arborist / 'Tree Surgeon'

Advice & Contacts

Becoming a professional tree surgeon, or more accurately, an arborist, is no mean feat, and takes years of learning and practice. Becoming an arborist is not about learning how to cut down trees. The work is highly skilled, hard, physically and mentally demanding, low paid and in all honesty it is a dangerous occupation, and quite often a wet and cold, or dusty and hot one. Tree monkeys are indeed a rare and slightly unhinged bunch. This said, those that thrive in the face of adversity, love a challenge, and love trees and being a part of the living environment and a close knit team will find arboriculture a unique and rewarding career choice. In fact most arborists would have it no other way, and understanding, respecting and learning about our environment and how do treat trees with reverence and simply 'doing the right job' is both the skill and the reward for the professional.

Below is an expanded introduction / guide to the work, and specific details on training requirements and providers. We hope it is of some use and welcome any comments and suggestions.

   Please click below for more about;

Spot The Tree Surgeon? Physical fitness and good balance are essential when climbing A thorough awareness of rigging, route to ground, anchor points, wood structure, signs of pests, disease and fungus all dictate where and how a climber can access the crown of a tree

 A clear sense of awareness in adverse conditions - the arborist controls the site in terms of risk to themselves and third parties, whilst concentrating very hard on the task

Green Man Conservation Jobs In Arboriculture - Above Left; Spot The Tree Surgeon? Physical fitness and good balance are essential when climbing - Above Right; A thorough awareness of rigging, route to ground, anchor points, wood structure, signs of pests, disease and fungus all dictate where and how a climber can access the crown of a tree  Below ; A clear sense of awareness in adverse conditions - the arborist controls the site in terms of risk to themselves and third parties, whilst concentrating very hard on the task

How do I pursue a career in Tree Surgery and Arboriculture?

The ever growing need for professional and dedicated arboriculturalists and qualified tree surgeons at various levels is driven by a burgeoning public interest in environmental issues, expanding access to community woodlands and public recreation alongside an evolving dedication by many to preserve trees as integral components of aesthetic landscape management and responsible environmental stewardship.

Whilst tree surgery concerns itself primarily with the cutting of trees to clients specifications, arboriculture is the holistic management of trees and shrubs from the design of planting schemes for amenity purposes, their actual planting, the ongoing maintenance of their health and development through pruning, thinning, invasive weed management etc., and various tree surgery operations throughout their life-cycle.

A career in arboriculture is perfectly suited to those interested in environmentally positive work that is highly responsible, largely outdoors (in all seasons and weathers), integrally team-focused and often very physically demanding and mentally challenging.

There are various points of entry into a career in arboriculture, ranging from the academic and theoretical to the practical hands-on approach; from full-time scholastic study to volunteering time and labour for local environmental amenity projects. Your starting point in the industry may depend upon the academic qualifications and vocational experience you already hold alongside your specific goals and targets.

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Qualities and skills generally required of an Arborist / Tree Surgeon / Groundsman:

An Arborist / tree surgeon should:

  • be practical and good at working with their hands

  • have a good base level of physical fitness and mental stamina

  • have a good head for heights or an overwhelming desire to overcome reservations

  • be able to work safely in adherence to a range of legal regulations and industry best-practices

  • be responsible and diligent

  • thrive as a member of a team where an unshakable trust in colleagues is paramount

  • be a good communicator

  • have a keen interest in wildlife and the environment

  • truly enjoy working out-of-doors in a range of conditions (sometimes rather adverse!)

No academic qualifications are normally required to get started, but practical training in the integral skills of the trade is essential (certification in a range of chainsaw operations, planting trees, spraying, pruning, handling a chipper or stump-grinder, First Aid At Work for example), leading to opportunities with local arboricultural contractors, positions with local authority teams or to begin as self-employed contractor status.

A growing number of colleges and independent training centres registered with and overseen by NPTC, LANTRA or SSTC offer practical vocational training, assessment and certification on a correspondence, short-course, part-time, or full, part-time basis.

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Useful qualifications may include:

  • BTEC National Award/Certificate/Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture,  BTEC First or National Diploma levels

  • City & Guilds National Certificates

  • NPTC certification in chainsaw and related operations

  • Higher National Certificate (HNC) in Arboriculture

  • Arboricultural Association Technicians Certificate in Arboriculture

  • Royal Forestry Society (RFS) Certificate in Arboriculture

  • ABC Certificates and NVQs at level 2 or above

  • Certification in ‘First Aid At Work’

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Getting practical experience in Tree Surgery and Arboriculture:

Depending upon the level sought to pursue, colleges and employers alike may require some basic academic achievements (for example the entry to some courses may depend upon holding at least four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3), along with practical work experience.

An excellent means of acquiring a diverse range of practical skills (and if commitment and potential are of a required level, sponsorship through basic practical assessments), is through local voluntary project work. There are a huge range of short-term and ongoing projects through charities and local government initiatives that rely heavily on volunteer labour forces to achieve important regenerative, maintenance and establishment projects. This type of work can be both hugely rewarding and satisfying and provides a great chance to get a taster of the type of working environment one might encounter and can often in itself lead to opportunities through the networking potential available. Organisations like the National Trust, British Trust for Conservation Volunteers and Local County Naturalist Trusts are great places to begin looking.

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Green Man Conservation Jobs In Arboriculture - Above Left; Gaining position to make a sensitive cut in large open trees often means a huge amount of time and energy just getting there to make one cut  - Above Right; The arborist controls the site and is responsible for organising ground staff directing traffic and pedestrians below

Apprenticeships in Tree Surgery and Arboriculture:

There are a range of industry related Government sponsored training schemes for the unemployed, school-leavers and young people. Possible apprenticeships which may be available in England are Young Apprenticeships, Pre-Apprenticeships, Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships. To find out whether you are eligible and which is most appropriate to you visit

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Advanced academic qualifications in Arboriculture and Forestry:

Below is a list of examples of some of the full and part-time higher level qualifications available in industry related topics.

National Diploma in Arboriculture or NDArb is awarded by Edexcel; a three-year course with one or more work placement opportunities built in to complement the academic study. As well as covering the NCArb topics, training in law, tree care, pests and disorders, problem solving and survey techniques are covered. You should be 17 or older with four sound GCSE passes or their equivalent.

Higher National Diploma in Arboriculture or HNDArb from Edexcel; a three year full-time course providing a greater depth of knowledge than the National Diploma along with a  grounding in business administration. Practical work placements are included. Entry requirements are a National Diploma or at least one "A" level or Scottish Higher.

Higher Certificate in Arboriculture or HNCArb is awarded by Edexcel. Similar to the HND, this course is, however, often undertaken on a part-time basis.

University Degrees – BSc. A growing number of universities nationwide are able to provide three and four year undergraduate degrees specifically in arboriculture and forestry.

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Further information:

The Arboricultural Association, Ampfield House, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 9PA. 01794 368717. Website:


Horticultural Correspondence College, Fiveways House, Westwells Road, Hawthorn, Corsham, SN13 9RG. 01249 730326. Website:


International Society of Arboriculture, UK and Ireland Chapter, 148 Hydes Road, Wednesbury, West Midlands WS10 0DR. 0121 556 8302.



Institute of Chartered Foresters (ICF), 7a St Colme Street, Edinburgh EH3 6AA. 0131 225 2705. Website:


Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park, Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG. 024 7669 6996. Website:


National Proficiency Training Council (NPTC), Stoneleigh Park, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire CV8 2LG. 024 7685 7300. Website:


The Royal Forestry Society, 102 High Street, Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 4AF. 01442 822028.


The Royal Scottish Forestry Society, The President, 65 Ambleside Terrace, Dundee, DDŁ 0DB. 01387 371518. Website:


Scottish Skills Testing Service, Skills Testing Centre, Young Farmers Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh EH28 8NE. 0131 333 2040. Website:

For apprenticeship schemes available in England


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Climbing the ladder in the arboricultural industry. Green man Conservation


Climbing the ladder in the

arboricultural industry -

How to become an arborist