Employing a Tree Surgeon – What to look for and what to avoid

We no longer operate as tree surgeons but we have left this website for your information

Update: we’ve noticed quite a few websites which have appeared recently who have copied the content of this page and pasted it on their own website. Some have been good enough to change the words to not fall foul of any copyright infringement. Unfortunately it seems to be mainly the unprofessional companies who are doing this, so just be careful!

Anyone can call themselves a tree surgeon and take out an advert in the local paper, which is unfortunate and means there are a lot of cowboys out there and picking the good from the bad is not always easy. So here are a few things to help you choose an reliable arborist (the name for a tree care professional) who can work to an acceptable and safe standard.

Update – See our post about rogue traders in addition to the tips below

Things to look out for and avoid when choosing a tree surgeon

  • Avoid – Topping and lopping – Anyone who uses these phrases should be avoided. Topping and lopping and bad terms, anyone can lop a bit off and it is generally destructive to the tree. Use of “topping and lopping” shows lack of understanding and usually poor work. BS3998 defines the terms which should be used and use of “topping and lopping” proves that they do not work to the British Standard which we all have to work to.
  • AvoidFencing, patio cleaning, driveways, gardening and Jack of all trades companies – Tree surgery, like most professional trades, requires a lot of dedicated equipment, staff and knowledge. We have spent years (and a small fortune) on professional qualifications and we know nothing at all about slabbing, fencing, decking etc. We leave that the professionals. We are yet to come across a “tree surgery, fencing, patio cleaning etc” company who work to good standards, safely and efficiently. Many of them sub-contract professional tree surgeons in and charge you a premium for the professional’s work. Others just hack their way through the work and pass it off as good work
  • Avoid“Your local tree surgeon” – Its a handy phrase but how do you know they are local to you? Look for a local landline number (avoid 0800 numbers too, they could be located anywhere) or an postal address.
  • AvoidGeneric names which cause confusion and denial of any liability such as Three Counties, All Season etc. This does not mean they are a bad company but tracking them down if it goes wrong could be complicated
  • AvoidMobile numbers – Avoid companies who only promote their mobile number. Get a landline number just incase the worse happens. Mobiles are to easy to dispose of.
  • AvoidNo contact address – Should the worst happen you want to know how to get hold of the contractor. Make sure you have their address
  • AvoidCash up front – Tree surgery requires no outlay for materials so there is no reason to ask for any cash up front. You should only pay once you are completely happy with the work and the clean up.
  • Avoid – Leaflet drops – Its good advertising but most of the leaflets I have seen do not have a permanent address or landline number. A few reputable companies do leaflet drops, but in my experience its most often used by cowboys & people without much tree knowledge.


What you can do

First have a plan of what you would like, write it down if necessary. A copy could be given to the contractors who come to quote. This has helped me in the past to provide an accurate quote and helped to ensure we are all quoting for the same work.

  • First step is to check to see if the tree(s) has aTPOs (Tree Preservation Order) placed upon it. If so you (or your chosen arborist) will need to seek written permission to do anything to the tree. You may also be in a conservation area which would also prevent work taking place without permission so check with your local tree officer first or local planning office. Your arborist can also do this later on your behalf.
  • Firstly check to see if the company publish a valid landline and their address. Cowboys often only use mobiles which can be easy to get and easy to dispose of. If they hide their address then what else do they have to hide?
  • Ensure the company has adequate insurance and ask to see a copy. Some insurance companies will not pay out unless the company has the relevant qualifications.
  • Qualifications – All tree surgeons should have, as a minimum, NPTC units. These are competency units which declare the individual competent for the relevant task. The 4 core units for a tree surgeon are
    • CS30 – Chainsaw Maintenance  & Chainsaw Use on Ground to Crosscut Branches
    • CS31 :- Felling of Small Trees
    • CS38 :- Climb a Tree & Perform Aerial Rescue
    • CS39 :- Operate a Chainsaw From Rope And Harness
    • With many other units which may be required for a specific task.
  • Look for further qualifications such as a level 3,4 or 6 course. We have the level 3 “Technicians Certificate in Arboriculture” and working towards the level 6 (degree level) professional diploma in Arboriculture
  • Ask for recommendations, references or testimonials, but these can be forged
  • Ask if the tree surgeon works to British Standards. The two main British standards for tree work are:
    • British Standard 3998:2010 ‘British Standard Recommendations for Tree Work’
    • British Standard 5837:2012 ‘Trees in Relation to Construction’
  • Feel free to ask other questions about the job such as “How will you remove the tree?”, “How will you avoid damaging my fence/shed/green house?”, “How long will it take?”, “Will the tree look ok afterwards and will it cope with such work?” Its not a definite way to catch a cowboy out but it may help spot one. Unfortunately many cowboys are good at making stuff up and appearing to give knowledgable advice. Again, by getting a few quotes you can check that everyone is giving similar advice
  • Obtain a written quote. Make sure everything you have asked for is included along with any extras such as disposal of waste, equipment hire (such as cherry pickers or wood chippers) and any taxes.
On the day look out for a few key things
  • All staff should be wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). This is usually chainsaw boots, chainsaw trousers and a helmet with visor and ear protection. Protective boots are compulsory for all operatives using a saw and the helmet is a must for all operatives on site. If they turn up in jeans I would send them away. If they cannot pay for (and do not care about their own health) chainsaw protective trousers then what does that say about their respect for your property
  • Climbers should have an appropriate harness (not full body and not a scaffolding harness) and rope and use them. I have seen cowboys wear full body harnesses but not connect them to anything, which kind of defeats the point in wearing them.
  • Minimum of two staff during tree climbing operations and at least one ground staff (along with the climber) should have the aerial rescue qualification.
  • Busy roads and working roadside – have signs and cones where appropriate and all ground staff wear high visibility vests.