In the latest in our ongoing series shining a light on women in the arb sector, their careers, and experiences, Katie Curwen, an ISA-certified arborist and co-owner of Arbor Ace Tree Care, shares her story.

What is your background?
I used to be a professional groom and riding coach before I got into trees. I fell out of love for horses because of the constant politics with people in that industry. I realised I needed to do something meaningful with my life and it needed to be outside the confines of walls. I don’t do well having to work inside. I think most of us who are in the industry feel the same as I do, even on the horrible weather days.

Where are you based?

Forestry Journal:

Currently, I am based in Abbeystead, Lancashire, however, I am Canadian. I am from Fergus, Ontario.

What made you pursue a career in arboriculture?
I fell into arb in a funny yet interesting way. I had no idea arb was a thing until I went to college. I originally went to Fleming College to study to become a conservation officer.

When beginning there, you do a common first semester as it is a school of the environment. I got a taste of geology, drilling and blasting, environmental technology, environmental management, fish and wildlife and forestry. I soon swapped out of EM to forestry as it really intrigued me. Towards the end of my second year a friend had me climb a tree during a college open house.


She was studying arb at the time and was running a ‘try tree climbing’ stand at the college. I was hooked from that day onwards. I finished my forestry diploma and then decided to start an apprenticeship for arb. 

What does your day-to-day work involve?
My day-to-day work varies. One day I could be removing a large tree in someone’s garden, the next a reduction of a roadside tree, hedge cutting, filming a piece for Arbortec or helping out on my family’s sheep farm. 

What was your first experience in arboriculture?
My first experience in arb was picking up sticks and dragging brush. I started my apprenticeship with a small private company in Cambridge, Ontario. It was a real eye-opener of how to teach yourself to be efficient and think 10 steps ahead. 

What was the last job you worked on?
The last job I worked on was helping to film a ‘how to do your first tree climbing competition’ with Arbortec. 

What is your proudest achievement in the industry?
I’d have to say my proudest achievement in the industry was getting my ISA certification. I scored very high on that massive exam and still carry that qualification today.

What is the most important thing you have learned during your time in the industry?

Forestry Journal:

Trust my gut. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t do it or find another way to complete the task at hand.

What has your experience of being a woman in a male-dominated industry been? 
My experience being a woman in arb has generally been a good one. I feel Canada as a whole is very progressive. My gender doesn’t really play a role in what I experience. There has always been an older generation person who questions me, but I just let my work speak for itself. I learned that it’s okay to do a job differently than what a male may do as I am smaller and not as strong. I can still get the job done just as well. 

What can be done to encourage more women into the sector?
I think there is a huge support for women getting into arb nowadays in comparison to when I started. The industry is a lot more inclusive, yet there is still sexism and patriarchy to deal with. I think things are changing now for skilled women. We just need to keep training and bettering ourselves like anyone else.

How important is a good work/life balance when working in the industry?
A good work/life balance is paramount for anyone. 

Time needs to be set aside for things that are not work. Be it family time, recreation, pets, whatever! It is so important to combat burnout and just enjoy your life. It can’t always be about work. 

What are the biggest challenges facing the sector at the moment?

Forestry Journal:

At this moment in time I feel that the industry is lacking in qualified, skilled climbers.

Another challenge is quality pay. We work so hard and do a very dangerous job for not the best pay cheque in this country.

What gives you job satisfaction about carrying out your role?
I am most satisfied when a very complex, multi-faceted job is completed without a hitch. I also really enjoy complex rigging scenarios.

From your perspective, do you see any shift in attitudes in arb? Is it becoming more inclusive for women?
Attitudes have definitely shifted regarding women in arb. Things are more progressive these days and women are excelling and are becoming highly skilled in climbing. I feel that women in any industry have more support and backing now. I just hope I live to see the day that women in any career isn’t novel any more.