Career 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 in/on 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 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. "It’s also a lot to do with the fact that you are dealing with many different issues — from pest and disease and biosecurity to tree health, planning and subsidence. Ultimately, you are creating environmental resilience."

What skills, attributes, knowledge and experience are most in demand for this 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."

Practical arboricultural experience

According to Bruce Blackman, owner and manager of arboricultural specialist CTC Recruitment: "The ideal candidate will have some practical experience of arboriculture, having worked as an arborist, groundsman
or climbing arborist. Recruiters like people who have done the job. It would be nice if they have done some sort of pricing, quoting and tree inspection work. You will be dealing with and managing contractors, possibly in-house but more commonly external, so a knowledge of the methodology of the work is beneficial."

Good knowledge of health and safety and tree-related legislation

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

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

Meadowcroft notes that the exact skills and level of study required depend on the position. "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. The higher up the ladder you get, the better your understanding of the relationship between humans and the environment needs to be. 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 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. 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 with a level 4 diploma, typically the ABC level 4 diploma in arboriculture, which people study through day release."

Are any of the skills that are in demand transferable from any 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. If it was easy to transfer, it would not be such a specific sector."

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