Choosing your arborist

Why choose a professional Arborist?

Picking the wrong arborist could lead to:

  • Injury to people,
  • Damage to property,
  • Irrevocable damage to your trees that have taken many years to grow...

Tree work operations (arboriculture) require a high degree of technical competence, supported by training and experience. For these reasons tree work should only be undertaken by well trained, competent arborists who hold adequate insurance.

Arborist at work

Genuine or not?

Anyone can call themselves a tree surgeon (arborist) and place an advert in Yellow Pages or on the internet and offer a service. An advert alone does not guarantee quality of work or that it will be carried out safely.

Competent arborists will have certificates which show that they have been trained and assessed. They will often have other academic qualifications in arboriculture and will use safety equipment to protect you, your property and themselves.

Reputable tree care companies will be pleased to furnish copies of their insurance, qualifications and professional membership certificates and will work to nationally recognised standards.

Questions you should ask an arborist

Stage 1: Asking for a quote

(a reputable arborist will always give a positive response)

1. Are you insured?

If yes, please show evidence of insurance - Employers Liability and Public Liability (recommended min £5 million)

2. Do you work to a British Standard?

If yes, which one? Should be BS3998

3. What qualifications do you and your staff hold?

You should ask to see copies of certificates.

Compulsory: Must have NPTC certificates for chainsaw use. NPTC is a national organisation that assesses competence of people using chainsaws and other arboricultural equipment. Competent arborists will be able to show you either an A4 sized certificate or a plastic id card.

Recommended: Certificates for other skills and machines. Arboricultural knowledge e.g. National Certificates and Diplomas. See our information about arboricultural qualifications.

4. Will you provide a written quotation?

If no reject this contractor.

5. Are you a member of a professional organisation?

Membership does not guarantee work standards but does show a degree of commitment.

6. Can you provide me with the phone number of a referee who can show me some of your work?

If yes, follow up the lead.

Stage 2: Choosing the quote that suits you

When you receive your quotations check they include the following before deciding which one to accept:

  • The name, address and land-line telephone number of the company.
  • Reference to the British Standard for tree work, BS 3998
  • Clear and full details of the work to be undertaken
  • What will happen to the debris
  • Whether VAT is included in the price
  • If the trees are protected, who will be responsible for obtaining permission for the work
  • What steps will be taken to protect you and your property

Competent arborists

In the UK there are currently two voluntary schemes certifying the competence of arborists through examination and regular reassessment or continuing professional development. You can search for contractors accredited through these schemes through our post code search page.

The Arboricultural Association maintains a directory of quality assured arboricultural contracting companies. Contractors (and consultants) in the Directory are regularly assessed for their health and safety procedures, office and business practices as well as their quality of tree work. They will display the AA collective mark logo. Please check with the Association that the contractor’s approval is current, either through list of contractors on the Arboricultural Association's web site or by phone on 01242 522152.

Individual arborists may be certified by the International Society of Arboriculture. The ISA assesses the individual for their knowledge and ability. Certified arborists will display the ISA Certified Arborist logo. Please check with the Society that the arborist’s approval is current through the list of ISA certified arborists on their website.

There is more information about these schemes on our accreditation page.

Other arborists may be equally competent but have chosen not to take part in these schemes. You can find additional information on arborists' qualifications in our consumer's guide to arborist qualifications.

Things to avoid

If you find any of these points it is likely that you are not dealing with a reputable tree surgery company:

  • Soliciting work door to door
  • Advertising "topping" as a service - topping is harmful to trees and good arborists will not carry it out
  • Uses only a mobile phone number or can not be traced to a permanent address

Remember too that tree surgery is a very specialised area. Companies that also offer drive laying, fencing or general garden maintenance may be very good at these things, but probably don't have the necessary expertise to undertake tree work safely and competently.

Contacts and further information

This information on this page is based on a leaflet produced by the following industry organisations with the help and co-operation of the Health and Safety Executive.

Arboricultural Association
Ullenwood Court
Ullenwood
Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL53 9QS

Tel. 01242 522152

Forestry Contracting Association
Dalfling
Blairdaff
Inverurie
Aberdeenshire
AB51 5LA

Tel: 01467 651368

Health and Safety Executive
HSE Infoline
Caerphilly Business Park
Caerphilly CF83 3GG
Tel: 08701 545500

Institute of Chartered Foresters
7A St Colme Street
Edinburgh
EH3 6AA

Tel: 0131 225 2705

International Society of Arboriculture
148 Hydes Road, Wednesbury
West Midlands WS10 0DR

Tel: 0121 556 8302

Lantra
Lantra House
Stoneleigh Park
Kenilworth,
Warwickshire
CV8 2LG

Tel: 0247 669 6996

National Association of Tree Officers
PO Box734
Manchester
M60 3UB

Tel: 0161 2816122

Email: nato@focusuk.net

NPTC
National Agricultural Centre
Stoneleigh Park
Warwickshire CV8 2LZ

Tel: 02476 857300

Tree Care Industries Association
Fleming Court
Leigh Road
Eastleigh
Hampshire
SO50 9PD

Tel: 02380 649756