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

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Succession in arboriculture

Author:  John Parker, CEO
Last Updated:  17/01/2024

Succession in arboriculture

John Parker, CEO

In this edition of ARB Magazine (Issue 203) we focus on two recent examples of our work on succession in arboriculture.

Michelle Ryan and Luke Fay have written an article summarising the workshops they held at the Association’s Conference in Warwick in September, which proved very popular and generated some really interesting discussion. And a few weeks before Conference, I attended a careers day at Pate’s Grammar School in Cheltenham to promote arboriculture as a career to year 9 students.

In addition to this, we have been busy with several other strands of the succession project. This has included an arboricultural assembly for 170 year 7 students at Stroud High School, a careers day in Norwich Prison and a tree walk around the Stonehouse Community Arboretum for students from Thomas Keble School in Stroud.

We also welcomed representatives from 12 colleges and universities around the UK to join us at the first meeting of our new Education Providers Working Group, held at the Malthouse in August. Look out for articles about these activities, and many more, in future editions of ARB Magazine. And if you haven’t already seen it, check out the Association’s new What is Arboriculture? video, now on YouTube.

Conference workshops: your perspective

Michelle Ryan, Association Chair, and Luke Fay, Treework Environmental Practice

In the last edition of the magazine you might have read about some of our work on the succession in arboriculture crisis. This work is all about making sure we have a healthy stream of people coming into the sector from all walks of life and ensuring they have enough options for a long and successful career.

We know just from talking to you that so many people within our industry are doing great work to help support this issue. Things like visiting schools, mentoring and giving work placements all contribute to this. We understand the severity of the issue, so bringing all this work together and connecting everyone and everything is one of the ways that the Association can really help.

Michelle Ryan

Michelle Ryan

Luke Fay

Luke Fay

Luke Fay

Back in June we had a meeting at the Malthouse with key stakeholders from different organisations to talk about the problem and come up with some initial areas of focus. Since that first meeting, we have continued the work in a variety of different ways and one of the things we wanted to do was to get your perspective.

We were tasked with running two workshops at the Association’s conference in Warwick and so the dastardly duo was formed. We were astounded by how many people turned up – 65 over the two days – but it just shows how important this issue is.

To keep the workshops simple, we split everyone into groups and asked the following questions:

  • In an ideal world, what would the arboriculture sector look like?
  • What are the barriers to achieving the ideal arboricultural sector?
  • What work do you know of that is being done about these issues, in your organisation and others that you are aware of (including those outside arboriculture)?

We are incredibly grateful to all those that came along to the workshops and made them such a success: we got lots of information to help us take things forward. It was also a great way for people to share their views and hear things they hadn’t considered before. We have distilled the points raised into the most common themes:

In an ideal world…

  • We’re seen as professional and have a good public profile.
  • Clear pathways into the industry and career progression routes.
  • Vibrant industry everyone wants to work in.
  • Better standards.
  • Improved relationships with other industries.


  • The name arboriculture.
  • Options for training courses are being stopped or are taught in rural/remote locations.
  • People not knowing our industry exists.
  • Not enough employers/people willing to offer experience or mentoring opportunities.
  • People from many backgrounds don’t see people like themselves represented in the industry.
  • Pay.
  • For climbing arborists, the physical side is taxing on the body and it’s not a job with longevity.
  • Lack of representation among the public and on social media.
  • Social media literacy of people within the industry and willingness to use it.
  • When people think of trees and tree planting, they don’t think of arboriculturists.
  • The industry isn’t always welcoming. This can be from a diversity perspective but also with some people gatekeeping.

What else is being done?

  • Defra grant fund for training: enquiries@forestryandarbtrainingfund.co.uk (and see page 21 of ARB Magazine: Issue 203).
  • Level 4 apprenticeships starting in September 2024.
  • In the US there is a voluntary scheme similar to national service with the forestry service for young people.

Something that was a shock for some to hear was how the industry isn’t always welcoming. People are put off from asking for advice or sharing their work online as when they have done this in the past, they have been shot down or trolled. This was often by more experienced people or industry names and made the receiver feel like they couldn’t share things or put their head above the parapet. It is also the reason why some people avoid social media altogether, especially sites like LinkedIn. How are people supposed to learn from their peers if they can’t ask questions without being made to feel like rubbish?

Two viewpoints have cropped up a number of times – professionalising the industry more through a more structured and academic route vs people finding their way into the industry through a friend or a boss who sees their potential and helps them to learn on-the-job. Are these two views in conflict or can we provide people with opportunities and progression without compromising on professionalism and quality? Most of us wouldn’t be in the industry today if someone hadn’t given us a chance when we were inexperienced. But how can we foster both cultures and still ensure that access is fair?

As the people at the workshops had very varied backgrounds, we collected a greater variety of information and opinions. We will use the information gathered since this work began to create an action plan. In the meantime…

Simple things you can do

  • Get involved with your local Association branch and see if they can facilitate school or community group visits: www.trees.org.uk/Branches.
  • Share Association posts on social media.
  • Tell more people about arboriculture!

The Association now has plenty of resources and is here to help your efforts to promote our sector, so please do get in touch if you need any assistance or have any ideas.

Part 2

This article was taken from Issue 203 Winter 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.