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VETcert is up and running!

Author:  Arboricultural Association
Last Updated:  03/12/2019

As announced in previous articles in the ARB Magazine, the development of the VETcert project, funded through the EU Erasmus+ programme, was completed at the end of August. The final report to Erasmus has been submitted and partners across Europe are now rolling out support, training and opportunities for completing the examination.

Veteran Tree Management Standards

Available from the VETcert website, the Veteran Tree Management Standards form the basis of the VETcert exam.

The certification scheme has two levels, Practising and Consulting, with standards available for each. Practising is aimed at professionals who are ‘on the tools’ and who physically undertake the management work (e.g. soil management, climbing, pruning, etc.), whilst Consulting is aimed at professionals who provide advice (e.g. tree officers, consultant arboriculturists or ecologists).

The standards comprise twelve units and cover all aspects of veteran tree management:

  1. Veteran trees: recognition and values
  2. The development and aging of trees: the role of physiological function and dysfunction
  3. Roots of veteran trees and the soil environment
  4. Veteran trees as ecosystems
  5. Veteran trees: their value for people
  6. Veteran trees: their cultural history values
  7. Surveying of veteran trees and veteran tree sites
  8. Legislation and official guidance in relation to veteran trees
  9. Veteran tree risk management
  10. Veteran trees: planning for urban development and infrastructure
  11. Veteran tree management in all its aspects
  12. Personal skills

Whilst both levels cover similar areas, the Consulting qualification demands a higher level of knowledge and understanding than Practising. There are also some key differences in the requirements of each unit. Taking unit 10 (Veteran trees: planning for urban development and infrastructure) as an example, the Practising level focuses on how work is planned and undertaken, whereas the Consulting level focuses on providing management advice.

To help interpret the standard a guidance document has been produced.

New training material

To help people on their way to VETcert, a range of new training material has been created. This includes a new two-day training course, videos, fact sheets, case studies and illustrations. The materials have been created to help people reach the VETcert standard but can also be used as a standalone training resource. The training course and exam are not linked, i.e. it is not essential to attend a course to sit the VETcert exam. The training course has been developed to support those who need it.

Two-day course: Understanding and Managing Veteran Trees

A new two-day training course, Understanding and Managing Veteran Trees, has been developed. The course builds on the work of the VETree project: VETree developed an introductory one-day course on the topic of Valuing and Managing Veteran Trees and a three-day ‘train the trainer’ course designed to provide people with the skills and materials to deliver the one-day course. The two-day course tackles more complex topics than the one-day course, including:

  • Tree architecture, a new way of thinking about how trees age
  • Fungi and hollowing
  • Soil and roots
  • Managing the land around the tree
  • Assessing your tree
  • Tree species differences
  • Tree pruning, including unconventional pruning techniques
  • Management planning
  • Biodiversity, populations and veteranisation of young trees

It is recommended that people attend the one-day Valuing and Managing Veteran Trees, or equivalent, before attending the new two-day course. There is some overlap between the two-day and the three-day course, so it is not essential for those who have already attended the three-day course.

The first two-day courses for the UK are planned for early 2020. Keep an eye on the Ancient Tree Forum (ATF) and Arboricultural Association websites or sign up to the ATF newsletter for more information.

New videos

To supplement existing training material, a new suite of videos has been produced. These include eight with Professor Lynne Boddy of Cardiff University on fungi and trees. The full range of videos covers:

  • Introduction to fungi
  • Introduction to mycorrhiza
  • Managing mycorrhizas
  • Different types of wood decay
  • Introducing heart-rot and hollowing
  • Heart-rot and hollowing of beech and oak
  • Colonisation of sapwood following wounding
  • Colonisation of sapwood in the absence of wounding
  • Pole thinning an old pollard
  • Unconventional pruning techniques
  • Managing veteran trees in urban environments

All of these VETcert videos, along with a suite of other material, are available on the Ancient Tree Forum website under the resources tab.

Fact sheets, case studies and illustrations

To complement the training courses and videos a range of other resources have been produced. These include a series of factsheets, case studies and illustrations.

The fact sheets are concise documents that comprise a combination of information and signposting to other sources. Topics covered are:

  • Cable, bracing and propping
  • Definitions of a veteran tree
  • Economic valuation methods for trees
  • Legislation
  • Wildlife species associated with veteran trees.

Case studies have been produced to ‘tell the story’ of the management of particular trees. Features include managing the land around a tree, treating soil compaction, removing competition around a tree, propping, cabling and crown reducing.

Concepts such as functional units and different types of pruning (e.g. tip pruning, reduction and pole thinning) are difficult to describe in words. These terms/approaches are explained by a series of illustrations.

VETcert exam and certification

The main output of the VETcert project is the examination and certification. The standards, training and examination procedures and regulations have been developed by the VETcert Steering Group, working with our partner the European Arboricultural Council (EAC) as the Managing Body; the EAC will manage the central administration of registration and certification. Each participating country has a Veteran Certification Centre (VCC) which will be responsible for arranging and organising the exams. In the UK, the Arboricultural Association is the VCC.

The VETcert website holds copies of the standards and guidance on pre-requisite requirements for candidates.

Both exams, for Consulting and for Practising, are delivered over one day, with two examiners.

The Practising exam consists of a 2-hour written exam (multiple choice and short written answers) plus an outside exercise including oral questioning, both on generic topics and on individual trees with a given work specification; the oral questioning is conducted by two examiners. Candidates are not required to climb, use a platform or carry out pruning during the exam but will be expected to describe in detail how and why work would be planned and carried out. The overall duration of the exam, including breaks, is around 5 hours.

The Consulting exam also consists of a 2-hour written exam and outside exercises. The oral questioning covers some generic topics and then focuses on specific, individual trees which the candidate is required to survey and then consider appropriate management recommendations. The Consultant exam includes a third session in which candidates are required to produce a management report on the trees they have surveyed on site. Candidates are provided with a report template which sets out the topic areas and level of detail required. The overall duration of the exam, including breaks, is around 7 hours.

The pass mark for both exams is 75%. However, in addition to achieving 75% or above overall, each candidate must also achieve at least 50% in each section of the exam; if they fail to achieve this minimum score in a section but have scored 75% overall, they will be required to undertake that individual section again.

The qualifications are valid for three years, after which there will be a requirement to submit evidence of CPD and continuing veteran tree work experience in order to renew the certification for a further three years.


The costs for candidate registration, examination and certification in the UK are as follows:

Certified Veteran Tree Specialist – Practising: £500 +VAT
Certified Veteran Tree Specialist – Consulting: £600 +VAT

Register your interest

In order to enable us to plan how many exams to run and where, we are asking people to register their interest by completing a Google form. Over 300 people have registered so far.

We will be running multiple exams in January and in March 2020, with further dates to be agreed. Potential candidates will be invited to attend on a ‘first-registered, first-served’ basis.

We are also working with other countries who want to start offering VETcert, and a programme for training and registering new examiners and establishing new VCCs has been developed and will be delivered during 2020 and beyond.

This article was taken form Issue 187 Winter 2019 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.