Careers profile - Local authority tree officer

A tree officer works for a council and is responsible for the care and management of trees owned by the local authority, including trees in public woodlands, parks, country parks and roadsides.

Duties will vary depending on their level of responsibility but may include physical tree work, carrying out surveys to record the number and health of trees and assessing and processing applications for works on trees.

What is best about being a local authority tree officer?

"Working with trees for the benefit of your borough/council and the environment," says Gary Meadowcroft, tree services manager for the London Borough of Southwark and a member of the executive committee of the London Tree Officers Association. He adds: "It's also a lot to do with the fact that you are dealing with many different issues relating to the trees - from pest and disease and biosecurity issues to tree health, planning and subsidence (the tree's ability to cause clay soil shrinkage). Ultimately, you are creating environmental resilience - planning for our changing climate and ensuring that there are younger trees taking the place of the older trees."

What kind of skills, attributes, knowledge and experience do you feel are most in demand for this type of role in the recruitment market at the moment - and why?

People skills

"Often a tree is the first item that gets blamed (in a dispute), and that's a difficult thing to manage," says Meadowcroft. "You have to be able to listen and understand the residents' point of view," he adds. "There's no point in being blind to the issues that the residents have."

Practical arboricultural experience

According to Bruce Blackman, owner and manager of arboricultural recruitment specialist CTC Recruitment: "The ideal candidate will have some practical experience of arboriculture, having worked as an arborist, as a groundsman or climbing arborist. Recruiters like people who have done the job - someone who has worked on the tools. It would be nice if they have done some sort of pricing, quoting and tree inspection work, which they might do when working for a contractor or a consultant." He also points out: "You will be dealing with and managing contractors, possibly in-house but more commonly external contractors, so a knowledge of the methodology of the work is beneficial so that you are not asking for things that are impossible or unrealistic."

Good knowledge of health and safety and tree-related legislation

Blackman says: "It's also good to have experience of health and safety-related issues and legislation that applies to arboriculture work and practices, for those incidences where they are monitoring contractors doing the work."

What sort of qualifications and experience would you need to see from a potential candidate to be convinced that they possess these qualities?

Meadowcroft notes that the exact skills and level of study required depend on the position that you are applying for or coming into. "Someone at a junior level would come in with a level 2 or level 3 diploma in arboriculture," he says. "They would need to have a good understanding of trees - recognise the different trees that we survey, understand what the trees are doing and how their mechanics work.

The higher up the ladder you get, the better your understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment needs to be." He continues: "At the next level you would need a level 4 qualification. At that level I would expect them to be able to come in and use decay detection equipment, for example.

It's a diverse role. If I was offering a junior role I would not expect someone to have all of the qualifications. I would want to bring them in, get them trained up and sent off to college one day a week so that they can work their way up. If they were coming in at a higher level I would expect them to have a lot more under their belt. It's about constant learning.

I have a Royal Forestry Society professional diploma - equivalent to a level 6 degree qualification." Blackman adds: "For the depth of knowledge you ideally want a tree officer to have a two-year level 3 diploma. But you would also expect to see a good number of them with a level 4 diploma, which typically is the ABC level 4 diploma in arboriculture, which people study through day release.

We place people who've done a level 3 extended diploma and get them jobs straight away in a technical capacity as a tree officer, but people do prefer you to have some practical experience."

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from other horticulture roles?

Meadowcroft says: "Some horticulture qualifications sometimes have arboriculture aspects in them but our profession is a specialism within its own right and there's lots of knowledge that's required for different levels of management, and if it was easy to transfer it would not be such a specific sector."


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