In the first of an ongoing series shining a light on the women of the arb sector, their careers and experiences, contract climber and founder of Women’s ArbCamp Boel Hammarstrand shares her story.


I grew up on a farm in Sweden, so have always been an outdoor kind of kid, helping out with the different kinds of animals – emus, rheas, sheep and llamas – as well as other things around the farm; dragging brash for bonfires, picking stones off the fields, etc. When I went to college I thought I wanted to work in a garden centre, greenhouse or nursery so I did horticulture with growing as the specialist field.

After I graduated college in Sweden I started working as an apprentice for an arborist company in the UK. From there I have worked my way upwards, became an NPTC assessor, LOLER-certified, ETW (European Tree Worker) and currently I am studying for the ETT (European Tree Technician) in Sweden.


Currently I have climbing kits in Sweden, the UK and North America.


Working as a contract climber, it consists of anything that is put in front of me, including but not limited to pruning work such as reductions, thinning, lifting and formative pruning. Removals from the ground or sectional felling and rigging, planting and maintaining young trees, tree surveys and inspections, bracing and supporting trees, as well as some training and assessments, and gear inspections.


When I first came over to England I came to learn English and not to learn to climb trees. After a while I realised that it was fun to climb trees and there was a lot to learn and also big personal developments that could be achieved in the profession. The more I have been involved with trees, the more I have learnt and the more great people I have met, the more passionate I have become in the profession and sharing my knowledge along the way.


My best friend at college wanted to become an arborist so we signed up for a two-week tree-care course that the school offered. My friend then hurt her knee so she couldn’t do the course. I did it for both of us and then just carried on. This course was my first taste of climbing and at the time I didn’t think too much of it. It was fun but it wasn’t a career I wanted to pursue. I then applied to do work experience in the UK and was meant to go and work for a garden centre in London. However, they cancelled the placement a few months before I was meant to fly out. The school then found a different placement for me with an arborist company; this was the company that I then started working for as an apprentice after I had graduated.


When I first started working as an apprentice it was a lot of dragging brash, splitting logs and raking up that I had to do before I was allowed to run the ropes when rigging and then do smaller climbing jobs myself.

Forestry Journal: Working in all weathers. Deadwooding an oak tree in Sweden during winter.Working in all weathers. Deadwooding an oak tree in Sweden during winter.


Never give up and think outside your box to find a way to achieve or get to where you want to be. No tree is the same and no climber is the same so don’t try and be like someone else, be the best you that you can.


This is a somewhat hard question; I am really proud over having being awarded the Spirit of the Competition award, both at the ETCC and twice at the ITCC. I am also incredibly proud to be sponsored by STEIN and with their help run and develop WAC and WACT.

My best placement at climbing competitions is third at the ITCC, second at the ETCC and first at the Swedish TCC, scoring 19 points higher than the highest-scoring guys, Johan Pihl and Johan Tallqvist.

I placed second overall in aerial rescue at NAOM, beating James Earhart and only being 0.33 points away from first place Bj Brock. However, with competitions it all comes down to the day and placing well could be more to do with someone else having a bad day and those are more snapshots of great moments compared to longer-lasting achievements.

I am also proud to stand up for women in different chapters. One year I was competing at a competition and the organisation was not going to allow any women in the Masters, as the men had higher points. After discussing with the organisers and explaining that the men and women’s divisions are separate and not dependent on each other, they decided that if I wanted to climb the Masters I would be allowed. This was not my goal with the discussion and I encouraged them to let the highest-scoring in chapter woman take part in the Masters. After a lot of discussion and translating of the current rules they finally agreed to let her climb in the Masters. Seeing the changes in this chapter since that competition have been great, they now have a trophy for the women. The women get recognition and some prizes and they allow female competitors to represent the chapter at ETCC and ITCC.

Forestry Journal: Next to one of the giant ancient Formosan Cypress trees in Taiwan with Sylvia Hsu. (Image credit: Weng Heng-bin.)Next to one of the giant ancient Formosan Cypress trees in Taiwan with Sylvia Hsu. (Image credit: Weng Heng-bin.)


I have both good and bad experiences. The one I mentioned above with women not being allowed in the Masters, or when Johan Tallqvist was congratulated for winning over Johan Pihl, when they scored the same in the Masters and I scored higher than both of them. These are some of the more negative in relation to competitions, when you don’t get recognition for doing just as good or better than other climbers, regardless of gender, when a woman has the highest score overall in the rescue event and the highest-scoring guy gets more recognition it is a bit frustrating. It’s also very frustrating when people talk about a competition and ask “Who’s in the masters?” or “Who won?” and it’s just the guys that are mentioned instead of mentioning both male and female competitors or champions.

A positive is when a chapter recognises when a woman has scored higher in one of the events that is directly comparable, such as the Swedish chapter mentioning that I was the highest-scoring climber in the Masters, or when it is recognised that a female climber has a higher score in rescue.

From a work perspective I had a lot more negative experiences when I first started working in the industry, but at the time I put that down to being young and inexperienced and not speaking the language where I was working a lot more than thinking it was because I was a woman.

If someone offers to help me carry my bags, I think it’s because they are trying to be helpful, not because they think I can’t do it on my own, and I personally offer climbers help carrying kit if I have a spare hand. I know there are inequalities for men and women and I know there are women that have had and still are having a much harder time than I ever had, both with finding PPE that functions and with the crew chemistry, leading to very long and hard days physically, mentally and emotionally. If you like working in the industry, but don’t enjoy it at the company or with the crew you are with, try and find a different company that takes your needs and personality into consideration and find a team that works with and for you. Sometimes personal chemistry doesn’t work, and don’t think that you need to accept being treated in a way that is not ok for you. There are more companies that will be happy to have you. Also try to find a mentor that can help you, guide you and answer all your questions to help with your personal growth.

Forestry Journal: Cutting big wood for a crane removal. (Image credit: Scotty Olson.)Cutting big wood for a crane removal. (Image credit: Scotty Olson.)


I think it’s important to show that there is a lot more to arboriculture than climbing trees and cutting them down with a chainsaw. It’s important to show that there are options and opportunities for women within the sector and then recognise that they are part of arboriculture. If it’s sitting in an office and doing research on pests and diseases or going out looking at trees for quotations or surveys, it’s still arboriculture. Remembering that even when you are working on the tools it’s not all about brute strength and being the fastest. It’s a lot more problem-solving and finding appropriate solutions that work; finding ways to utilise your strengths and working with the team to bring each other up instead of trying to find a weak link. If we show women that there are options that can fit their future plans, that it doesn’t have to be a choice between working with trees and having a family, I think it will open it up to more women, knowing that if you do want to have kids you don’t have to change trade during or after your pregnancy, you might need to change your day-to-day work for a short time, but there are plenty of things you can actively do on a worksite such as training, safety inspection, crew leader, as well as doing quotations or smaller trees. Depending on the company you are with there might be different options. I am not saying that this will apply to all women as a woman’s main purpose is not to be a human incubator, but even for the women that don’t want kids, knowing that there are other things than just climbing will open up more opportunities and options for women.

I also think it’s just as important, if not even more important, to encourage and support the women already in the sector so that we don’t end up with a lot of women dropping out or changing careers because there is no support network for them. Getting a lot of women into the sector that leave after a few years will just make false statistics. It’s better to get and keep women in the profession. This can be done by having support networks and mentors, by having workers encouraging each other and helping each other find solutions to everyday issues. There are a few Facebook groups like Women in Trees, Women in Tree Care and Arbtalk Girls, to mention a few. These groups offer great support and if you are in need of a mentor you can find others in your area or others that you connect with.

Forestry Journal: Group photo from WAC 2019 in Finland. (Image credit: Megan James.)Group photo from WAC 2019 in Finland. (Image credit: Megan James.)


I was inspired by some other climbers at the UK TCC 2016. We were six women competing I believe, which was a really high number, and we got talking about how it’s a shame that we never just meet up outside of the competitions to hang out and climb and have fun without it being competitive. Leading on from that conversation I planned and organised the first event which I called Female Climbing Weekend. The event was sponsored by STEIN and Gustharts and we ended up being 18 women getting together to climb and learn from each other. From there the event has changed name to WAC – Women’s ArbCamp – and started travelling around Europe to make the event more accessible for other women so that it’s not just the same participants that have a close-by and easy-to-get-to event every year. In 2018 the event was in Sweden, in 2019 we were 50 women getting together in Finland, and the latest event had women travelling from all over the world to be part of it, including Taiwan and USA. Plans are already under way for WAC 2020, which will be held in Belgium in August, hosted by BAAs ISA.

WAC has also acquired a little sister, WACT – Women’s ArbCamp in Taiwan, which will have its first event from 6–8 March at Shuitou Village in Nantou, Taiwan, and will be organised with the help of Sylvia Hsu and Climbing Trees.

The focus of the workshops for the event will be relating to strength, health and beauty, and we are planning on including workshops on yoga, stretching, training and healthy eating with the female body and climbing activities in mind, as well as climbing activities on moving rope and static rope systems for both beginners and more advanced levels to suit all different skills. The event is open to any female within the field of arboriculture that wants to travel to Taiwan to be part of WACT. More info will soon be available on  as well as the Women’s ArbCamp in Taiwan Facebook and Instagram pages. This will be the first time an event like this has been held in Taiwan and we are super excited to be able to support and help out at the event.


2020 is the five-year anniversary of WAC and I am hoping that we will have another successful event where we can network and share knowledge and experiences with each other. And with it being the first WACT I am hoping that too will be a successful event and the start of another annual event focusing on women in arboriculture and showing different fields and aspects of arb.