The following is an interview that Tom Fellows, founder of Arbor Cura, gave to an employment and careers website a few years ago. The full transcript can be read here.

What made you decide to choose to get into this sort of career?

sussex tree climber tom arbor cura

Tom still climbs trees for fun

There were many contributing factors. I’d always loved climbing trees as a boy, I had an interest in horticulture, I loved working outdoors (I was already a gardener, I loved the physical challenge and demands and after trying out a 3 day climbing course at Merrist Wood college, I fell in love with tree climbing, and I knew it was the job for me.

Do you have a standard day or a standard type of ‘exercise’?

Not really. Each day tends to be at a different location, and the tasks vary a fair bit, although we will be either felling, pruning, planting, splitting logs or hedge-cutting.

What is the most common type of problem/call-out/enquiry you must attend to?

The most common problem is someone whose tree has outgrown its position in the garden and either needs it to be removed or pruned, so as to make it smaller (usually to allow in more light).

What do you like most about the job?

There isn’t one aspect I like over everything else. I love climbing, talking about plants with customers, the fact there is a new job every day, camaraderie with the guys, solving problems and keeping extremely fit.

What do you like least about the job?

Bad weather, and the fact that tree climbing is incredibly damaging to the body if you’re not careful.

What are the key responsibilities?

Safety, safety, safety. Tree health is also crucial, as well as public awareness; I run the company so I’m responsible for everything. A tree surgeon will generally be responsible for maintaining all of his kit (climbing ropes and harness, chainsaws, pruning gear), maintenance of truck and wood chipper (machinery used to process branches into woodchip), liaising with the public, liaising with the local authority on tree protection matters, undertaking safe and modern tree work.

What about academic requirements? Any formal demands, eg A Levels?

You can enter the industry at any level. Most guys get into tree surgery in their late teens/early twenties with no qualifications, and either learn whilst on the job, or combine an ARB course with a work placement. There are many qualifications to attain within the industry from basic tree climbing certificates right up to degree and beyond. You need to be clear about exactly what it is that you are interested in.

Who is the longest serving member in your team/division?

Me, for 13 years.

What is the starting salary and how does this increase over time with promotion?

It’s not that straightforward, as the salary range will depend on the employer. A novice climber might be able to earn £60-£100 per day and obviously command more money with more experience. An average daily rate for an average climber would be £80-£130 depending on the location, and really top climbers can look for £130+ per day. It’s a very inexact science, and very underpaid considering the demands and dangers!

If you left this position, what else would you consider/prefer doing?

I’d remain in the arboricultural industry, maybe as a consultant or teacher.

What advice do you have for someone who is looking to get into this as a career?

Get some work experience with a local tree surgeon so you can see what sort of work we do (don’t expect too much money, as it is a skilled yet dangerous job, and as a novice, you may be more of a hindrance than a help). Talk to tree surgeons and groundspeople to get ideas about training, career possibilities and to find out if this is the sort of work for you. Be realistic. This is hard, dangerous work; it’s extremely demanding physically, and tree climbing requires courage and clear thinking in stressful situations.

What are the most important qualities an applicant should possess?

Punctuality, reliability, being a good listener, honesty, being very hardworking, having a willingness to learn and to take on constructive criticism. And guts!

Any closing comments/thoughts?

For many people, myself included, this is the best job in the world, but always remember that it takes its toll on your body. Expect aches, pains, cuts, scratches, sprains and broken bones. Also, there is a long term risk of injuries to arms, legs and back. Your hearing may also be affected due to the loud machinery used. Be good to your body and you’ll have a very enviable job.

Contact Tom for a free quote or further information about his work.

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