How to Become a Tree Surgeon: A Comprehensive Guide

If you’re looking at changing careers for something more physical, or you are just entering the world of work, you might have come across the role of ‘tree surgeon’. But what exactly does a tree surgeon do, what ways can you become a tree surgeon and how much do they get paid on average?

Here at Arbjobs, we know a thing or two about tree surgery. We are one of the largest job boards dedicated to tree surgery in the world. Yearly, we help thousands of people develop their careers as tree surgeons. We thought we’d share our advice on how to become a tree surgeon with you.

So how do you become a tree surgeon? A prospective tree surgeon needs to be:

  • Physically fit
  • Interested in natural conservation
  • Good with heights and working outdoors
  • Able to perceive hazards and risks.

If you meet these criteria then you might be perfect for the role of tree surgeon.

Your next step should be to consider your entry-level, then the physical demands of the role. Finally, you can consider applying as a trainee or apprentice with a firm or start your training to gain the safety certifications required as an arboricultural worker.

Getting an interview with a firm can be difficult. Fortunately, Arbjobs has helped thousands of tree surgeons find a role that suits them. Find out everything you need to know about applying to become a tree surgeon with us here at Arbjobs.

What Does A Tree Surgeon Do? The Basics

On a basic level, tree surgeons mainly manage trees within a human environment. Although much of the job is managing and removing damaged and dangerous trees some of the work will involve the preservation and conservation of trees within the landscape. A good tree surgeon isn’t just an indiscriminate remover of the UK’s woodland, they often help trees by removing dead branches or areas where infection has set in. To do this, a tree surgeon must have detailed knowledge, or be advised by someone who does, of how to identify any problem with a tree’s health.

The UK is populated by over 3 billion trees, and these trees sometimes need caring for, trimming or removing altogether. This is the role of a tree surgeon.

What Does a Tree Surgeon Do Day-to-Day?

A professional tree surgeon’s day-to-day tasks will always change from job to job. However, the main responsibilities of a tree surgeon are a mix of residential and commercial tree work. They will also spend most of their time planting, pruning, cutting or removing trees and hedges around domestic or commercial property and on private or public land.

Residential Tree Work

As trees age, they may become naturally larger, which makes them more dangerous to nearby buildings and people, or to the environment in which they grow. People who are responsible for these trees might be physically unable to deal with large or dead trees, so they ask a tree surgeon to help.

Commercial Tree Work

Similar to residential tree work, commercial agencies may employ or contract tree surgeons to carry out large-scale vegetation management including arboricultural work on their behalf.

Work may include roadside trees or hedges on forested areas, farmland, country estates or on behalf of agencies responsible for our utilities, highways, rail and waterways.

Hedge Trimming

A percentage of most tree surgeon work will include the upkeep of the UK's hedgerows to consider. The Woodland Trust estimates that the UK has around 237,500 miles of hedgerows, most of which need cutting back regularly. Although much of this is now mechanised, some will become the work of a tree surgeon.

As well as these 3 main duties, a tree surgeon will also fill their time with the following services:

  • Tree Removal
  • Stump Removal or Grinding
  • Deadwood Removal
  • Crown Lifting, Reducing and Thinning
  • Tree Planting
  • Non Invasive Bracing

As well as the services listed above, a large amount of time will be spent:

  • Transporting and disposing of large amounts of wood and debris
  • Identifying and managing the risks from equipment, P.P.E, trees, environment and location
  • Learning to evaluate and treat tree health
  • Learning to prune or remove branches correctly
  • Planting and cutting down trees safely
  • Being flexible and adaptable to other tasks as needed
  • Routinely inspecting and maintaining chainsaws, P.P.E. equipment and vehicles.
  • Performing physically demanding and potentially hazardous work in all weather conditions.

Tree surgery is hard, labour-intensive and potentially dangerous work. Many daily tasks are carried out at height in unpredictable environments and terrains.

Is a Tree Surgeon a Good Job?

Skilled tree surgeons can be well paid and are highly sought after around the world.

Perks of the job can include working outside in unconfined spaces, often in different locations and teams. You also get to be physically active throughout your day, using and learning different skills as you do so.

There are, however, some downsides to working as a tree surgeon.

What are the downsides to being a tree surgeon?

Whilst there are many upsides to taking on such a challenging role as a tree surgeon, there are some notable disadvantages to the role. These include:

  • Physical Demand - Being a tree surgeon requires you to be physically fit at all times. Often, tree surgeons have to climb the trees that they are working on. The ability to climb is contingent on full physical strength.
  • Personal Health and Safety Risks - For the poorly trained, unskilled or risk takers, tree work can be inherently hazardous, posing risks to workers and the public alike. Over the past decade, a reported 24 tree surgeons/ arborists have died and nearly 1,400 have been injured during tree work.
    The key causes of these incidents may involve chainsaws, falls from height or being struck by falling timber/trees. Due to these risks, safety is of utmost importance.
  • Risks to Personal Property - There is also the inherent risk to other people and their property. Trees are dangerous, and tree surgeons are often called upon when trees present a real or perceived risk.
    As a tree surgeon, you are legally responsible for ensuring everyone's safety including your own. You may be personally liable if a property is damaged or persons are injured or killed or injured due to your negligence. As a tree surgeon, you will need to be capable of planning and managing any work you carry out. Therefore, you should never attempt to undertake tree work beyond your certified training or ability.

How Much Do Tree Surgeons Earn

The salary of a tree surgeon depends on qualifications, experience, location, and self-employment status. Apprentice salaries may start at £16,000 per year. Experienced tree surgeons can earn in excess of £45,000 a year here in the UK. The average UK salary for a tree surgeon, according to figures on Arbjobs, is between £25,000 and £35,000 per annum, based on experience and qualifications.

Apprenticeship salaries will depend on various factors, including an individual’s age and how long they have been in their apprenticeship. Some employers will offer £200 to £300 a week for apprenticeship tree surgeons/arborists positions.

What Qualifications Do You Need For Tree Surgery?

There are many different ways to become a professional tree surgeon. One way to become a tree surgeon is by enrolling in a relevant college or university course or by applying for an apprenticeship.

You can pay for a training company to train and certify you to carry out tree work duties and this may appeal to you if you already have relevant experience, such as working from heights or experience working with trees (or sometimes just wood).

Anyone wanting to become a tree surgeon should consider taking relevant university courses like forestry, arboriculture, or forest management.
Alternatively, you could pursue a college course. At Arbjobs, we have found that the two most useful college qualifications to becoming a UK tree surgeon are:

A Level 2 Certificate in Arboriculture

A Level 3 Diploma in Forestry and Arboriculture

To achieve these higher qualifications, you’ll need good foundational qualifications to be accepted into most (but not all) college courses.

You typically need at least two GCSEs with grades 3-9 (A*-D) for a Level 2 course and four GCSEs with grades 9-4 (A*-C) for Level 3. Additionally, two GCSEs (including maths and English) are necessary for an apprenticeship. Alternatively, you can gain work experience by volunteering with organisations such as;

The Tree Council

National Trust

The Arboricultural Association

Becoming a tree surgeon relies on the individual being perfect for the role. Gaining any relevant experience in becoming a tree surgeon can improve your chances of finding the right firm for you.

Career Paths and Progression

A ‘tree surgeon’ is often a blanket term used to refer to people in the manual work of arboriculture. The ability of a tree surgeon to progress into different roles in ‘arb’ is dependent on each individual's interests and skills.

Those wanting to progress in arboriculture may often find rewarding work in becoming:

  • Ground staff
  • Climber
  • Arborist
  • Lead climber/team leader
  • Supervisor
  • Sales manager
  • Surveyor
  • Depot manager
  • A business owners themselves

Tree work can be physically very hard on your body so look to the future and develop skills that will help you when you no longer wish to carry out the physical side of the work.

What Are Some Tips For Success When Applying For Tree Surgeon Positions?

Successfully applying for a role with a tree surgery company can be tricky. Here at Arbjobs, we help thousands of applicants and tree surgery firms find each other. We thought we’d share some tips for success for anyone wanting to gain a foothold into this amazing career.

Do Your Own Research

Before you apply for a tree surgery position, do your research into that firm. Many companies will list their services, location and relevant information on their websites. Start here and build up an idea of the firm that you are applying to.

One key area to focus on is the alignment of values between the applicant and the tree surgery. Hiring firms will often audit your application in a similar way, so having your application geared towards that firm's values could be crucial. Are they conservationally or environmentally focused, or are they a bigger firm where, perhaps, other values may be promoted?

Check out listings from tree surgery firms on Arbjobs to see their values. Consider if your values align with theirs.

Understand Why It Should Be YOU That Gets Hired For This Role

Understanding the job posting and the firm that posted the listing is key, so you should let the firm know why it should be you who gets the role.

Standing out from the crowd can be the difference between a successful application and one that falls short. If you are applying with little or no experience in the field of tree surgery, include other hobbies and interests or experiences that may be relevant to tree surgery.

Be Contactable and Communicable

Providing clear contact information on your application will show that you understand the communication needs of others. If you are contacted by a tree surgery firm after applying, you should make it a priority to reply as soon as possible.

This shows a keen interest in the application, but it also shows good communication skills. This is a key skill for a tree surgeon.

Becoming a Tree Surgeon With Arbjobs

Becoming a tree surgeon will give you an exciting and rewarding career. Understanding how to successfully apply for a position isn’t easy. We hope that our guide has shown how nearly all tree surgery companies view applicants and the basics of what it means to be a tree surgeon.

Using this site, you can filter through hundreds of tree surgery positions in the UK, US, Canada, Sweden, Germany, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand. You can also filter out sectors, which gives you the option of trainee and technical positions.

Using this tool can not only save you time but also allow you to keep all your applications in one place. This makes not only staying on top of your applications easier but also allows you to compare each firm to see which best suits your values.

Signing up for a Jobseekers Account takes 5 minutes and is completely FREE! Let Arbjobs help you find the perfect tree surgery job today.