The structure of the UK arboriculture industry resembles a pyramid — very wide at the bottom and narrow at the top. On the top tier are around a dozen large general landscaping firms with national coverage that offer tree care as part of a package of services to public and private clients, together with a handful of large regional specialist arboricultural firms and a couple of forestry companies whose work extends into arboriculture.
Next come 30-40 regional firms, mostly arboricultural specialists, that are sizeable enough in terms of staff, equipment and fleet to take on larger contract tree care work in their area. These are followed by smaller firms, generally with turnovers below £1m, that may specialise in domestic or other local work, or subcontract from larger firms. These are mainly professional, accredited set-ups with personnel trained to industry standards. Then there are the hundreds of local small traders, often operating on the fringes of the industry proper, focusing on the domestic market.
Within this, all market sectors are competitive, none more so than local authority work, where the ongoing squeeze on public spending has increased pressure to deliver contracts cheaply. This may be a factor in the significant number of companies whose most recently published results show a decline either in turnover or in staffing, or both, from the previous year.
This is troubling and unfortunate given the increasing awareness of the importance of urban trees to their environment and communities in terms of air quality, rainwater attenuation, noise abatement, biodiversity and social and economic uplift, as well as their visual amenity.