Joe Robson

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Posted: 26/10/2017 | 0 comments

Who am I?

My name is Joe Robson and I’m about half way through a year-long placement at Westonbirt – The National Arboretum. This blog will cover my past experiences (i.e. how I became interested in arboriculture), what I am doing and learning at the moment and it will also be updated as I progress. Its aim is to advise and inform people who are new to, or considering entering the industry. There are a number of ways to enter and progress in arboriculture. This helps to make it an exciting industry made up of a huge variation of people and job roles, however, it can also make it difficult to navigate. I’m not qualified to give careers advice but I hope my personal experience will give you a flavour of the arboricultural industry.

How did I start out?

At sixth form in Norwich I studied politics, history, sociology and law. Whilst I enjoyed some aspects of each subject I couldn’t see myself being happy working in a job which centered on any of them. During this time I began working for a local landscape and garden maintenance company and once I finished my A – levels I became a full time employee. I discovered that I really enjoyed working outside and enjoyed the work dynamic that goes with it. We occasionally worked alongside tree surgeons (who, as it happens have infinitely more interesting jobs than the average landscape gardener!). Talking to these tree surgeons and helping them work eventually spurred me on to go to Pershore College near Worcester to do a Foundation Degree in Arboriculture.

What have I done so far?

My Foundation Degree (which takes 2 years when undertaken as a full time course) covered basic tree work skills, arboricultural science and basic surveying & consultancy skills. As the name suggests I gained a lot of foundation knowledge about arboriculture and how the industry is structured. Pershore has a horticultural background and because of this I also gained a wider understanding on how arboriculture fits in with the horticultural industry. I then had a year out of formal education and worked for both an arboricultural consultancy and a few contracting companies local to me. Although I was not in what I have termed formal education I was still learning every day and picking up a lot of different skills in both practical and office based aspects of arboriculture – you could call it real work experience. I then went to Myerscough College in Preston to top up to a BSc (Hons) in Arboriculture (which takes 1 year when undertaken as a full time course and requires a Foundation Degree or equivalent to have already been completed). This course focuses on more academic aspects of arboriculture covering subjects like tree risk management and biotechnology. I began working at Westonbirt arboretum soon after graduating.

Westonbirt does as much ‘in house’ work as possible and as a result of this myself and Seth, a countryside management student also on placement, are able to be involved in a great mix of activities which all go towards making Westonbirt what it is.

The work at Westonbirt is greatly varied and both myself and Seth have been involved in a lot of it. This work includes helping to grow and propagate plants which have been collected on trips abroad - these trips are undertaken by on site staff. We then plant these trees and manage them. Managing trees is a broad statement and includes formative pruning of a newly planted tree, helping to prolong the life of mature and veteran trees in the collection, or removing trees; usually for safety or landscape reasons. Since July we have been undertaking landscape restoration; removing a large section of shelterbelt trees within the arboretum.

What now & near future?

So far at Westonbirt my practical skills and knowledge about trees has greatly improved. I’ve picked up new skills like felling large trees and have just passed my FMOC (Forestry Machinery Operator Certificate) and accompanying tests. This means I can drive tractors on the road, use a flail mounted on a tractor and extract timber using a tractor. I’ve also helped with tree safety inspections which was the subject of my dissertation and I’ve been much more involved with mapping and propagation than in the past.

Each different path into arboriculture requires you to look at trees in different ways. A consultant may look at trees with safety or development in mind, a contractor may be thinking of quality of work and profit margins and a tree officer may think of overall public benefit offered by possible removal or retention of trees. One fundamental thing I’ve learned at Westonbirt is to look at trees with multiple aspects in mind, some of which are specific to the site. These include the tree or group of trees’ contribution to the landscape, rarity or factors which make a tree or group stand out (e.g. champion trees) and also possible compromises to public safety which they may pose. I think being able to understand these aspects and apply them to decisions I make in the future is a really positive thing to take away from Westonbirt.

I plan to carry on improving and completing industry courses - I’ll update this blog as I go. I hope it’s an interesting read and helps you decide whether this is the industry for you and even what courses or routes into the industry may be best for you.

Thank you for reading and I’ll update soon!