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Tree surgeons and contractors

The council encourages high standards of tree care within the borough and recommends that tree work should only be carried out by well trained and competent tree surgeons.  Tree surgeons are sometimes described as ‘Arboriculturists’, ‘Arborists’, ‘Tree Contractors’ or ‘Arboricultural Contractors’ and they should be able to perform the following functions:

  • Undertake a basic tree inspection.
  • Act as your agent to find out if the trees have any form of statutory protection and if required apply to the Local Authority on your behalf to obtain permission to carry out the tree work.
  • Recognise defects and diseases and determine what type of pruning is required to maintain the health, safety and appearance of the trees.
  • They should also have a feel for the shape and beauty of the tree and where appropriate leave it with a balanced natural form.
  • Carry out the full range of tree maintenance, i.e. pruning, bracing or feeding operations to the relevant British Standards and have a clear understanding of current tree pruning practices.
  • Fell trees including removal of dangerous trees and those in confined spaces
  • Some contractors may also offer to plant and maintain new trees

Tree surgery is a highly skilled profession and a good tree surgeon will have spent several years training and gaining experience to become competent.  This is because trees take many years to grow and can be destroyed or disfigured within a few minutes through poor work. Poor tree works can lead to:  

  • injury to people
  • damage to property
  • costly re-pruning
  • irrevocable damage to your trees

Prior to undertaking any tree work, you should always contact the Planning Authority to find out if your trees are covered by a Tree Preservation Order, Planning Condition, Legal Agreement (S.106), or are within a Conservation Area. This can be done by contacting the Tree Preservation Officers at the following address:  

Tree Preservation Officer
Development Management
Civic Centre, Zone 2b
Darwall Street
West Midlands
WS1 1DG.

Tel: 01922 654741

Works to trees protected by a Tree Preservation Order, Planning Condition, or situated within a Conservation Area require formal approval from the council.  Works to trees covered by a Legal Agreement (S.106) may require formal approval although this will depend on the wording of the Agreement.  Unauthorised works can result in criminal proceedings against both the tree owner and contractor. The Borough's Tree Officers can provide professional tree management advice and guidance on protected trees, if required.

Appointing a tree contractor

Many tree contractors advertise in the local press or Yellow Pages but an advert alone does not guarantee quality of work or that it will be undertaken safely.  A competent contractor will have certificates to indicate that they have been trained and assessed and are qualified to use the necessary equipment. They often have academic qualifications in arboriculture and are members of professional bodies.

Reputable contractors will be willing to show you copies of their insurance, qualifications and professional memberships and will undertake to work in accordance with recognised standards. 

Anyone paid to work with chainsaws on trees who has not been trained to do so is breaking the law and if contractors are not properly trained or do not follow industry guidelines they may invalidate their insurance.  You may wish to follow the guidelines below to help you choose the right tree surgeon for you.

Always ask for a written quotation 
Obtain quotations from several contractors, including VAT, so that you can compare prices. 

Ask them to itemise precisely:

  • what work is going to be carried out,
  • how long it will take,
  • what safety precautions will be taken,
  • how the debris will be disposed of,
  • what condition the site will be left in.

Remember the price may not be the governing factor in deciding which contractor to employ.  If any of the companies refuse to supply a written quotation, reject them.

Ask to see evidence of insurance 
The current recommendation is £5m Employers and Public Liability cover.

What qualifications do they hold? 
It is compulsory that tree surgeons have NPTC certificates for chainsaw use. A competent arborist will be able to show you their A4 certificate or plastic ID card.

Do they work to a recognised standard? 
Tree surgeons should undertake tree work operations to comply with British Standard 3998:2010. This is particularly important if they are carrying out work to a protected tree. Failure to adhere to the British Standard when working on protected trees could result in the prosecution of the tree surgeon or tree owner. More information on protected trees can be found here

Agree a written specification 
We recommend you agree a written specification giving full and clear details of the work to be undertaken, before work begins. This will include information about what will happen to the debris, whether VAT is included, who will check whether the tree is protected, who will obtain any necessary permission for the work and what steps will be taken to protect you and your property.

Ask the contractor to provide the phone number of a referee where they have carried out similar work and check whether the client was satisfied with the quality of work.
If a contractor says he is local authority approved ask them to explain what this means and check with us.  Liability and competition legislation may prevent local authorities from specifying ‘approved contractors’. 

Member of a professional organisation
There are two voluntary schemes that certify the competence of tree surgeons. These schemes independently assess their members on a regular basis.

The Arboricultural Association produces an annual directory of quality assured tree surgery companies. You can check whether a contractor's approval is current by telephoning the Association on 01794 368717 or through their website

The International Society of Arboriculture assesses individual tree surgeons for their knowledge and ability. You can check whether the arborist's approval is current through the Society's website