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Watch out for rogue tree surgeons

Tree surgeon

Would you check if a tree surgeon was properly insured and qualified before letting them loose in your garden?

Poor arboriculture could lead to injury or damage to property, leaving you potentially liable (not to mention the damage that could be done to your trees).

But a survey of Which? members found that 37% hadn’t checked if the tree surgeon they employed was suitably insured or qualified to do the work.

A further 46% selected their tree surgeon on a friend’s recommendation.

While it’s good to get an idea of a tree surgeon’s previous work, it’s not a guarantee of quality. In the UK, there are two schemes certifying the competence of arborists – The Arboricultural Association and the International Society of Arboriculture. You can also visit Which? Trusted Traders for trusted tree surgeons.

Five questions to ask your tree surgeon

It’s good to be armed with the right information, so here are five questions to ask your tree surgeon before they get started:

  1. Are you insured? Companies should be able to show evidence of employers’ and public liability insurance up to £5 million.
  2. Do you work to a British standard? This should be BS 3998:2010 (Tree work – recommendations).
  3. What qualifications do you and your staff hold? They must have NPTC certifi cates for chainsaw use.
  4. Will you provide a written quotation? If they can’t, reject this contractor.
  5. Are you a member of a professional organisation? Membership does not guarantee work standards, but it does show commitment to the trade.

Your favourite trees

Now on to something completely different. My Which? Gardening colleague Adele Dyer also asked Which? members what trees they’d like to plant if space wasn’t an issue. And more than a third said oak.

When we drill down to just the top 10 trees, oak took half of the votes and was five times more popular than the second-placed apple tree.

What’s your favourite tree? Have you had any problems with tree surgeons, or made a mistake when pruning a tree yourself?


On a landscaping trade site there was a discussion regarding the £400+Vat Which? Trusted Trader fee compared to belonging to a professional body. It was interesting to see that members at that site felt professional qualifications should be more important.

For the Arborist Association there are apparently 2000 members in the UK and it is a body that deserves 2support. It is noteworthy in publishing Executive Meeting minutes along with AGM Minutes.

The only link on offer takes you to the Which? Trusted Trader site where apparently only 62 tree surgeons advertise.

Perhaps it would be useful , and indeed fair, to include links to the two professional associations where subscribers and readers would get a better feel of what is available.

+ 1

I apologise for the incorrect title it is the Arboricultual Association and is here:
unfortunately this notice would suggest that the alternative, an off-shoot of an Amercian group, has foundered.
March, 2015 (Updated June 2015)
To all ISA Members and Credential Holders residing in the UKI:
On behalf of the ISA Board of Directors, we would like to inform you that the UKI Chapter has formally been dissolved. A survey has been distributed to members and credential holders in the UKI region asking for their opinion on the future of an ISA presence in the UKI.

Lastly given the well-known propensity for rogues preying on elderly – as yet again highlighted in the excrable BBC Watchdog last week – to pretend to be gardeners/builders/tree surgeons I hope this matter will tie up with action on cold-calling or leaflet dropping. Both need to be banned.

I am not in favour of banning leaflet dropping – through leaflets through the door we have found some useful local services provided by excellent workers that we would probably not have come across any other way.

The National Proficiency Tests Council [NPTC] sets the competency standards for tree work and various other landscape functions [like weed-spraying] and the Intro to this Conversation rightly says it is important when employing a tree worker to ensure they have a competency certificate for chainsaw use. There are progressive levels of the NPTC certificate and each contains various modules, and even chainsaw work breaks down into various types of activity and types of machinery. A full Level 2 certificate should be sufficient for most tree work in gardens but for more complex work including work on large trees, extensive tree surgery, and emergency work [and more unusual work] Level 3 is required. A worker with a full Level 3 certificate would be competent to do any tree work. Contractors who have an NPTC competency certificate should carry an ID card. Their certificate shows which modules they have been assessed in and received a satisfactory assessment. The main concern with tree work is safety rather than the appearance of the tree although a competent tree worker will be considering the best way to prune a tree in the interests of appearance and the health of the tree. If multiple trunks have been allowed to develop from the base, or if pruning has been left too late and the upper branches have grown too thick, it can be difficult to achieve a satisfactory shape.

I have employed professional tree surgeons to deal with large trees, one being a large Willow with a girth at the base of over three metres. It was too close to the house and had decayed in places so was a potential public safety hazard. It had to be taken down completely which was an impressive operation, done very proficiently. I did indeed check the qualifications and experience of all the operatives involved because it was such complex work that took several hours. It had been partially reduced the previous year, which was important because Willow trees [and most other large woodland trees] extract so much water from the ground. It is well-known that this can cause subsidence, but removing a tree, with the consequent loss of water uptake, can lead to ground heave which can be just as damaging to the foundations and structure of nearby properties. So good professional advice is vital to avoid any such complications which might not become apparent for some time after the work.

I have not personally had any problems with tree surgeons but I can well appreciate that there are people wielding chainsaws who have not had the required training or achieved the right qualifications. Anyone can buy a chainsaw, some garden centres and DIY stores sell them, and they are probably the most lethal weapon one could have. Having the right personal protective equipment is just as important as having operational competence [this is covered in the competency certificates]. Safety boots and headgear are obviously essential but protection for the hands and legs are just as necessary. Professional tree workers will wear ‘ballistic trousers’, which are not something out of Wallace & Gromit, but trousers made with chain-clogging material so that, in the event of contact, the teeth on the chainsaw will be fouled and the safety cut-out will deploy. Such safety equipment is expensive and there could be a tendency to economise but properly trained workers who are members of a professional organisation are much less likely to take short cuts on this as their reputation and professional integrity depend upon it. Firms that have contracts with local authorities or the Highways Agency or Network Rail will usually be good [and checked] for major tree work but might not be interested in garden work. There is more likelihood of finding good practitioners in rural areas than in metropolitan areas.

A good tree worker will also know how a branch or trunk will move and fall when it is cut, where timber will drop, how best to take weight off before tackling the main stems, and how the wind will affect the work and whether to proceed. It is very highly-skilled work and therefore it is expensive. Looking after big trees requires some attention every year which many people put off or employ an under-qualified person for, which in my view is a false economy.

Dealing with small and garden trees can be equally difficult because access is often restricted and the operatives might have insufficient experience for certain types of work so make a mess of it. I have seen attractive trees ruined by competent but insensitive pruning which would have been better staged over two or three years.

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Superb, if I may say so.
As a trained and equipped chainsaw user myself I am shocked to see some of the antics performed by ”We were in the area and we noticed …. ” elements.
Even ‘blunt’ chain saws can amputate digits, hands and limbs in seconds.
For those using an electric ‘ saw in their garden, a pair of cowboy ‘Chap’ type leg protectors are cheap and highly effective.

Edit timed out
*** ‘Chap’ type leg protectors are cheap ***

I should emphasize that these must be of the same construction described in John Ward’s excellent piece above
Viz : ” … trousers made with chain-clogging material so that, in the event of contact, the teeth on the chainsaw will be fouled and the safety cut-out will deploy.”

This comment was removed at the request of the user

Last Thursday’s(15th) Watchdog available on BBC Iplayer shows a scam.

Thanks, here’s a link for those who missed it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/articles/4Xr8vCy6vFYhlMjfpNHFM0R/gardeners

I perhaps should have mentioned in my youth I spent some months working for a tree surgeon company in a reasonable way of business. That it had a Scammell pioneer Crane truck, a flat bed lorry with crane and several Landrovers. I am reasonably au fait with the craft required.

I am a great fan of the sabre saw [reciprocating saw] as it is far far less dangerous than a chain saw and for most gardens is more than adequate with a 240mm woood blade. It also has the advantage of being more easily used in confined spaces so you can sculpt trees by removing branches.

I have a number of books on trees and the best one I have is:
“The Pruning of Trees, Shrubs, and Conifers”
which was first published in 1972, and nomenclature was up-dated in 1995 edition. I see the latest edition is 2009 and available quite cheaply. As one reviewer notes:
” Don’t waste time or money with other books on pruning trees, shrubs and conifers this all you will ever need ”

John Ward is right regarding trees and heave and I must admit to being slightly perplexed when people plant large growing trees close to houses.

+ 1

My neighbour has a large oak tree in his front garden – despite third party advice that pruning / pollarding, will not discourage root growth he continues to embark on his 3 or 4 year duty.

He recently spent a weekend digging up his drive and garden to locate and repair the damage to his water drainage caused by vigorous growth of the oak tree’s roots

”I am a great fan of the sabre saw [reciprocating saw] as it is far far less dangerous than a chain saw and for most gardens is more than adequate with a 240mm wood blade. It also has the advantage of being more easily used in confined spaces so you can sculpt trees by removing branches.”
I agree, and so much lighter to use and portable when up a ladder, or sitting in the branches – wearing my harness and hard hat !
What TPI do you find best, plz on green / wet, wood?

I watched last weeks show with horror, to think that individuals or firms will stoop so low to get their hands on the publics hard earned money in the same profession that I work. I have been a Tree Surgeon for many years and run a small family business, it still amazes me today some of the prices that members of the public are quoted, even more so when someone unknown to them has knocked on their door telling them their trees need doing or it will damage their property and using similar scare tactics. Since the show aired I have had a few new customers phone up to cancel their jobs, I presume scared of what they saw on the show. I am now looking to register with a trade such as check a trade or trusted traders in the hope that any work we are asked to quote on that is not from a recommendation helps instil some confidence that we are not all cowboys and some of us believe in an honest days work for an honest wage. Trees don’t stop growing, so the odds are if we do a job properly you will ask us to come back year after year when you need us again. Its very sad in this day and age that there are so many rogue traders out there.

If anyone ever knocks on your door and tells you that your trees need doing, please get quotes from several companies or better still a local referral.

Joe Rice covering Nottingham & Derbyshire

(Sorry Joe, we had to remove the link as we don’t allow promotion. Thanks, mods.]

Joe +1

”(Sorry Joe, we had to remove the link as we don’t allow promotion. Thanks, mods.]”

”Beautifully” phrased, if I may say so !

Thnx !


Having paid a ‘tree surgeon ‘ around £4,000 to Tidy up the trees in our garden I have just realised when looking for my sons football that he has left the top half of a tree, propped up by other trees, he’s removed the trunk and left the rest of it.!this could without a doubt kill someone. I’m a widow with two sons he has totally taken advantage and then disappeared .