How To Become a Certified Arborist in the UK

If you are looking at becoming an arborist, then it might be worth becoming fully qualified and certified. Qualification (knowledge and experience)  and certification (official recognition of abilities) in arboriculture are important as they show any client or prospective employer that you have met recognised standards set by top arborists worldwide. 

Join us at Arbjobs, the largest arborist tree surgeon jobs board in the world, as we guide you through the process of becoming qualified as an arborist here in the UK. 

Becoming ‘certified’ as an arborist in the UK requires you to hold certification from the Arboricultural Association or other internationally recognised bodies, like the ISA. Gaining these certifications can be tricky and requires you to complete certain competencies before becoming certified. 

Let’s detail below exactly how to become certified to the standards set by the UK’s arboriculture governing bodies:

  • start an apprenticeship and/or;
  • gain certificates of competence from a recognised training body;
  • gain relevant experience and learn on the job;
  • acquire nationally/ internationally recognised certification. 

Before we go into detail, let’s run through exactly what we mean when we talk about arborists and the steps they may take to become certified

What Exactly Do We Mean By A ‘Certified Arborist’?

An arborist is a professional who practices arboriculture, a certified arborist is someone who can repeat these practices and techniques to a professionally recognised standard.  As such, they are awarded national or international certification which shows their competency to prospective employers or clients.

Arboriculture is a career that is very rarely the same day-to-day. Learning on the job is crucial as new tasks and issues present themselves. However, while this agile approach to learning is something that we celebrate in the arboricultural world, the knowledge and the techniques used must be grounded in safe and repeatable practices. 

‘Certification’ is the authoritative body in arboriculture standardising these practices and techniques. Then, these authorities, such as the Arboricultural Association, give those who meet this criteria a recognised card, badge, physical or online certificate or other token. Gaining these certificates means you are recognised as someone who can work to high arboricultural standards UK-wide.

Which UK Arborist Certifications are Available? 

Certain tiers of the Arboricultural Association (AA) membership require applicants to possess a certain level of arboricultural or related qualifications and experience to be accepted. The grades in question are Technician (which requires a level 3 or higher qualification), Professional Member (level 5 or higher) and Fellow (5 years of Professional Membership and continued professional development). 

Steps to Becoming a Certified Arborist in the UK

Becoming certified is important to stand out from the pack and prove that you have the basics in place to be fully compliant wherever you work. There are many ways of becoming and gaining experience as an arborist. But if you are looking to take your first steps in the industry, the best place to start would be an apprenticeship. 

1. Apprenticeships for UK Arborists

An apprenticeship is just one way in which prospective arborists can enter the world of arboriculture. Apprenticeships offer on-the-job experience, with courses being split between practical and classroom learning. 

Gaining an apprenticeship might not be on your career map. However, if you are considering an apprenticeship to enter the world of arboriculture, why not read our Tree Surgery Apprenticeship Guide? In this blog, we break down the importance of gaining an apprenticeship to become an arborist, the entry requirements and the skills needed to flourish in this rewarding career. 

Do I Need an Apprenticeship to Become an Arborist? 

No. However, if you are just starting out with your career in arboriculture, then completing an apprenticeship will teach you the basics of this career. Apprenticeships are split between practical and classroom learning. If you already have experience working as an arborist or tree surgeon, then continue reading below. 

2. Get an Education

Whilst you can become an arborist with little or no education, gaining some formal qualifications will greatly benefit your pursuit of becoming a certified arborist as you will need a level 3 or above qualification to gain an AA certification. 

What Qualifications Are Required to Become an Arborist?

Many UK employers will require you to have completed the basics of secondary education. This may be the completion of between 2 and 5 GCSEs, with a grade of at least 3 (D)

It will also improve your chances of having any relevant A-levels around the topic of tree surgery, forestry or environmental sciences. This also may include the completion of courses, such as:

  • Level 2 Certificate in Felling and Processing Trees,
  • Level 2 Certificate in Arboriculture,
  • Level 2 Certificate in Felling and Processing Trees,
  • Level 2 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture.

In addition to GCSEs and A-levels, any tertiary education such as an undergraduate degree will greatly benefit your chances of becoming an arborist. Some undergraduate courses that will greatly benefit your understanding of arboriculture, and therefore your chances of becoming an arborist, are:

  • Environmental science,
  • Horticulture,
  • Arboriculture,
  • Forestry,
  • Woodland management,
  • Countryside management.

Whilst any of the above qualifications won’t necessarily guarantee you a position as an arborist, they will greatly benefit your pursuit of the role.

What Higher Qualifications Are Required To Become A Certified Arborist in the UK?

Below are just some of the higher qualifications required from candidates to attain a Technician (Level 3) Membership with the Arboricultural Association:

Gaining further qualifications and experience will also be recognised by the AA. You will qualify for a Professional membership once you have achieved at least an RQF Level 5 qualification or higher in Arboriculture or a related discipline. This might include the following qualifications:

3. Gain Relevant Experience

If you already work in the field of arboriculture, then you will be aware that there is no substitute for experience. Attaining certification from the Arboricultural Association will require an assessment of your experience in tree surgery. As experience is a quality that every certified arborist must first have, we strongly recommend that you work in the industry for a minimum of 2 years before becoming certified. 

Once you have the necessary experience and higher qualifications (Level 3 or 5), you can become certified through the Arboricultural Association. 

It is worth noting that Professional (level 5) AA membership may also be obtained without this level of education, by providing a professional portfolio of evidence that covers at least 10 years of experience with at least 2-3 years in senior positions. 

Additionally, qualified arborists who have held a Professional membership for at least 5 years will qualify for a Fellowship with the Arboricultural Association. This level of qualification requires a review of your professional experience, knowledge and contribution to your field by peers. To maintain the qualification, fellows are required to commit to 20 hours of continued professional development per year. 

How to gain experience entry-level experience

As you begin your career, you may not be able to gain experience in a vocational manner. If that is the case, you may be able to gain entry-level experience in arboriculture through volunteering for a number of organisations in the UK. These organisations are: 

Volunteering for any of these UK and EU-based organisations is beneficial for becoming an arborist, as it shows passion for tree restoration in the UK. Volunteering may be a good stepping stone to gaining professional experience in tree care. 

4. Get Certified

Each organisation requires different qualifications to become a member. The Arboricultural Association (AA), for instance, requires different qualifications depending on the membership level for which you are applying.  

Apply to the Arboricultural Association

Applying to the Arboricultural Association through its various levels of membership will allow you to be considered a certified arborist in the UK. Membership in this association comes in 8 different tiers;

  1. Student
  2. Foundation
  3. Associate
  4. Technician
  5. Professional
  6. Fellow
  7. Professional Retired
  8. Fellow Retired

Student, Foundation and Associate Memberships are saved for those either studying or working their way through their study to become further qualified, or, certification isn’t needed for their particular role. This membership may be worth it if you want to stay up to date with the latest developments in the industry. 

Technician and Professional tiers allow arborists to be considered certified by UK standards. However, there are further certifications that UK arborists can apply to. These certifications can be either the European Tree Workers Certification for the EU or The International Society for Arboriculture (ISA) provided for the US.

For more information on US, EU and Australian Certification, please find our recent blogs on the matter:

How To Become A Certified Arborist: Your Guide to a Career in the USA

How To Become A Certified Arborist: Your Guide to a Career in Europe

In these blogs, we cover ISA Certification (US and International relevance) and ETW Certifications (European and International relevance). If you plan on becoming certified to work in either of these international areas, consider reading them to see how you can be better equipped to be recognised abroad. That said, attaining AA membership at level 3 or above would be considered enough for national work. 

UK Arborist Jobs with Arbjobs

Becoming certified as an arborist is not straightforward and relies on a lot of study and work outside of an arborist's daily routine. That said, becoming certified will allow you to show a higher level of working and understanding to prospective clients or employers.

Arbjobs is the world’s largest jobs board for arborists, trainee arborists, technical arborists and tree surgeons. We post regular updates on our blog to help employers and job candidates alike find their footing in arboriculture, so make sure to check back with our blog for more information.

Finding a job on Arbjobs is easy, and it requires a quick sign-in to be able to reply to the over 9000 different hiring firms, globally
On Arbjobs, you can also get detailed CV support helping people like you bridge the gap between the hiring firm's expectations and the information provided on your CV.

Here is a helpful guide ‘Creating Effective Job Descriptions for Tree Surgeon Positions’ provided to employers on how to successfully find candidates online. Does your CV make the cut?