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Student Book Prize: winners announced

Author:  Arboricultural Association
Last Updated:  27/05/2021

The winners of the inaugural AA Student Book Prize have been chosen!

Thanks to generous anonymous donations, the Association was delighted to launch a new prize in November aimed at celebrating careers in arboriculture. We invited Student members to submit an entry describing why they chose arboriculture as a career or about any interesting subject of their choice.

Entries could be submitted in writing (maximum 500 words) or as a video (maximum 3 minutes long). The winners were chosen by a specially selected panel and announced during the Association’s online Fungi Symposium on 31 March.

The Student Book Prize was inspired by a donation from someone who has benefited from encouragement and support from members of the industry and realises just how important this sort of help can be. A second anonymous donor added further books to the prize package for the winning video and winning written submission. The winner in each category received five top books worth £193 from the AA’s bookshop: Fungi and Trees: Their Complex Relationships by Professor Lynne Boddy MBE, Fungi on Trees: A Photographic Reference by David Humphries and Christopher Wright, Diagnosis of Ill Health in Trees by R.G. Strouts and T.G. Winter, and Updated Field Guide for Visual Tree Assessment and Pauli Explains the Form in Nature by Claus Mattheck. Book prizes were also awarded to the second and third place entries.

Results – written entries:

1st – Stella Bolam

2nd – Lynden Reed

3rd – Cecily Withall

Results – video entries:

1st – Hazel Irving

2nd – Simona Gervickaite


The top three written entries appear below and the winning video was broadcast during the Wednesday Webinar on 5 May.

This competition was only open to Student members of the Association. If you are not a Student Member, don’t worry, it is free to sign up!

Stella Bolam


Why I chose arboriculture as a career

By Stella Bolam

I’ve always loved nature and, trees especially.

I grew up in a small town in rural Essex and was lucky enough to be left to play outdoors in a big back garden, which had some magnificent trees. I remember climbing them, copying my two older brothers, and feeling exhilarated sitting in their branches and getting a wonderful new perspective on the world.

I was an avid reader. One favourite book was The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. I think it was this book – along with the many hours I spent in wooded places – which forged in me a deep love for trees, which I carried inside me into adulthood without realising.

I’d never considered I could have a viable career working outdoors with trees. I was naturally a good writer so when I first started thinking about getting a job after university, I was drawn to journalism as an obvious choice. For the last 24 years I’ve worked in a deskbound, office environment – first as a magazine journalist for 10 years, in London, then for 13 years in the medical technology sector as a digital marketing and communications specialist. Now I’m a freelance copywriter.

What changed things radically for me was attending a Women in Arb webinar as part of Sheffield Tree Week (where I live), last summer (2020), which focused on careers for women in the sector. I was so excited by what I was hearing at the webinar, that I had one of those ‘lightbulb moments’ and came away thinking ‘Maybe I could do this!’ After the webinar, I contacted one of the panellists who started informally mentoring me.

I started seriously reflecting on what I want to do for the rest of my career. I enjoy writing, but it no longer challenges me. I realised I’m much happier outside in nature, ideally around trees. I also wanted a job that gives back to the planet (my copywriting business supports sustainable/ethical companies and social enterprises with marketing services). That’s why, last September, I decided to take a leap into the unknown and enrolled to study QCF Level 2 Certificate in Arboriculture with TreeLife.

Discovering the world of arb has been an absolute joy for me. I spend two days every week focusing on my studies (leaving three days for my copywriting business) and attend arb webinars, listen to podcasts, read research papers and tree books.

I’ve become a volunteer local street tree warden and gained experience in planting trees with the Parks & Countryside team at Sheffield City Council as a volunteer.

I’m always looking out for other local practical tree experience because I know how valuable it is to get your hands dirty and be around other arboriculturists to learn from them.

I don’t really know yet where I will end up in terms of a job in the arb sector, but – having just celebrated my 50th birthday – I know I’m now on the right path for the rest of my working life.

Stella Bolam is studying QCF Level 2 Certificate in Arboriculture part-time, 2020/21, at TreeLife Training (Syston/Online)

Lynden Reed


The art of arboriculture

By Lynden Reed

When I was a young child, we were told stories of a family friend who could seemingly climb any tree. He would disappear into the depths of a woodland canopy and come down a different tree to that which he had climbed!

As with many young children, I was an enthusiastic tree climber and would look up to the tops of the tallest trees with a sense of awe and adventure, wishing I could climb as effortlessly and fearlessly as the friend of the family had been described. As with all young children, I grew up, but those stories would stick with me.

It wasn’t until I was 16 and time had come to decide what I wanted to do after GCSEs that the story would raise its head again. My ‘career advisor’ wanted to know what A levels I planned on taking. This sounded like just an extension of school and not something I was interested in. I then remembered the family friend, as well as the echoes of wise grandparents saying to do what you love. After a frantic internet search, I realised I could fulfil that childhood fantasy; I could get paid to climb trees and use chainsaws … I could get an apprenticeship in arboriculture!

I was lucky enough to receive an apprenticeship with a small but very professional ARB Approved firm, the owner of which had dedicated his life to arboriculture, achieving a masters level degree. It was here I was taught that arboriculture is just as much of an art as it is a science. He used to always say, ‘The difference between a good haircut and a bad haircut is three days, the difference between a good crown reduction and a bad is three years!’ I was encouraged to take pride in the work I undertook and ensure wherever possible we always did what was best for the tree. It was working at this firm I decided that arboriculture was the profession for me.

I completed the Level 2 Apprenticeship in Trees and Timber and moved straight on to the Level 3. This is when my eyes were opened to how vast the industry is. I had a tutor filled with enthusiasm who filled the class with enthusiasm. We not only learnt more advanced practical techniques but delved into the science of trees. We were taught how to undertake inspections and surveys and given a glimpse of how complicated and magnificent these organisms are. This sparked a fire for learning that is still burning strong today.

Seven years later and I am now working as a tree officer, helping a local authority manage their trees. I have started my Level 4 and do not intend to stop there. Although I may spend more time looking at trees than climbing them now, I will never miss the chance to throw my harness on at the weekend and explore the depths of those woodland canopies!

Lynden Reed, aged 24, is studying for the ABC Level 4 Diploma in Arboriculture (Distance learning – Part Time)

Cecily Withall


Apprenticeship at Kew

By Cecily Withall

Finishing school at 17 and more interested in leaving my small Scottish village and heading to the big lights of Edinburgh than going to university, I began working as a waitress.

There I stayed until, at 20, I left the UK and began working on small farms in Italy, gardening in return for free accommodation. Something clicked. I loved it, the sweat, the digging, and the growing.

Returning to the UK, I began a diploma in Horticulture within The Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh. This ignited an interest that led me to The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and their tree team on work experience. I was addicted. Within a year, an apprenticeship became available. I applied immediately and after graduating from Edinburgh, I moved down to London and never looked back.

How it feels

Exhilarating, exhausting and completely inspiring. I have climbed the highest trees in Kew, learning practical climbing techniques. I have felled dead trees whilst learning to manage a botanical collection using a holistic approach, with continued surveillance alongside technology that looks at root plate repair as well as external structure and disease.

As part of the apprenticeship, I study through a land-based college to gain certification on our equipment, saws, aerial rescue and climbing technique to contribute to the team and my future career.

There are never two days the same in our department, from numerous call outs to inspect broken limbs or fallen trees across the 300 acres. Typically, we remove dead wood, climb to inspect and prune species from across the globe. The job is as unique as it comes.

My favourite trees at Kew?

I think for anyone who loves trees, the answer will be ever changing depending on the season, from autumnal colour, bark texture, or even their spring flowers. The magnolias blew me away last spring at Kew and their bright early pink hues looked like candyfloss clouds in amongst the frosty vistas. In autumn, my eyes search for our dawn redwoods, known grandly as Metasequoia glyptostroboides. They proudly stand as giants showcasing their illuminated golden autumnal foliage.

Why are there so few woman within the industry?

During World War II, 6000 of The Woman’s Timber Corps, a separate branch of the Women’s Land Army, otherwise known as Lumber Jills, picked up the axe to maintain timber production when Norway became occupied by Germany. 78 years later, it is still seen as uncommon for women to work in the industry.

Arboriculture is seen as a primarily male-dominated industry due to the misrepresentation of the ‘lumberjack’ image, portraying strapping men with big saws.

As a fresh face in arboriculture, in age as well as ability, I learn in an environment where my accomplishments and enthusiasm are worth more than my gender (as you would expect). However, I want to emphasise that isn’t the case for all women within the industry and many struggle to gain footing.

Cecily Withall, aged 25, is a full-time Arboriculture apprentice at The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Course level: Level 2 in Arboriculture, Berkshire College of Agriculture (BCA)

This article was taken from Issue 193 Summer 2021 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.