By Kim Stoddart
course there focused on tree biology, pests, diseases and subsidence. The majority of people working at an advanced level in the sector will have completed this course.
Bruce says: “There are now masters degrees in consultancy.”
Alongside his surgery work, Bruce commenced consultancy work, going on to became the planning tree officer at Bristol City Council.
“Tree surgery is a young man’s job, and I’m a gorilla, not a monkey. The monkeys are the agile guys who can work on the slimmest branches. I was heavier and slower, but I had a good technique.”
The physicality of the work wears out the body, though. Bruce now has a pin in his femur, a damaged back and he’s broken his hips in the past so he can’t do the physical stuff any more.
“Either you grow your own company to do the tree work, go into consultancy, or focus on stump grinding, which is easier on the body,” he says.
ARBORICULTURE IS THE cultivation, management and study of trees, shrubs, vines and other perennial woody plants. Forestry, or silviculture, is the practice of establishing and managing crops of trees for timber production.
Confused about tree surgeons and arboriculturists?
Bruce explains: “Tree surgeons are craftsmen and women who know how to cut a tree. They provide domestic tree planting, pruning and felling services, orchard work, hedge laying and trimming and woodland management. They may advise on maintenance requirements as well as pest and disease control. An arborist is probably also a tree surgeon and will understand the problems affecting trees — why and how it needs to be dealt with. The arboriculturist is a tree advisor or consultant likely to work for local authorities, utility companies and developers, providing specialist guidance on tree health, safety, preservation, trees and buildings, planning and other laws relating to trees. In rural parts of the country, a tree surgeon will probably do everything.”
Best practice says a treesurgery gang should be three people: one on the ground trained in aerial rescue, one working up the tree and the third dealing with the rigging.
The reality is that it’s usually a two-person gang, with the person on the ground covering both rigging and rescue. The rigging is necessary to lower large pieces of timber to the ground safely using a winch, rather than cutting it into many smaller pieces at height.
TREE SURGERY HAS changed hugely in the past decade. The climbing equipment used to be three-stranded nylon rope and a sling with a slip knot.
“These days we use rockclimbing equipment and techniques adapted for tree work, including for the rigging and controlled descent of branches,” says Bruce.
Increasingly chainsaws are more efficient and less polluting, and there are battery-powered models for professional use. Chippers have become the norm as the high costs of disposing of green waste in landfill has encouraged tree surgeons to reduce and reuse it as much as possible. This minimises the bulk of the waste, decreases transport costs and the time needed to dispose of it. In urban areas tree surgeons are expected to take all the timber or waste away, but when it comes to smallholders everyone wants to hang on to the timber for firewood and the chippings for mulch.
SINCE 2016 BRUCE, 58, and his wife, Jackie, have lived at Upcott Mill, a smallholding on the outskirts of Bideford in North Devon.
Bruce says: “It’s a typical, accidental smallholding. We loved the house and its position. It just happened to have seven acres, barns, outbuildings and an old mill. We had no intention of keeping animals, but now we have two rehomed Pygmy goats, eight Devon and Cornwall Longwool sheep and a Badgerface x Shetland wether.”
Bruce and Jackie also keep a pair of chickens, but have plans to bring more to Upcott Mill. Finally, of course, there is Molly the black lab.
For more information, visit www.coastaltree.co.uk
BELOW: A large fallen beech tree. Due to the fact that it hadn’t been inspected before it fell, it was found to have a centre like a sponge. An arboriculturist is trained both to check the structural status of a tree and also to remove it when it has fallen over by accident