Grace Lane has tried just about every job imaginable. But it was only when she discovered tree surgery during a trip to Canada that she found her true calling. She tells us about her life, career, and overcoming challenges in the latest of our ongoing series shining a light on women in the arb sector.

As a child I grew up in a rural village in Lincolnshire. My friends and I would be out in the fields at any given opportunity, making dens, swimming in the nearby river, riding our bikes for hours and generally annoying the local farmers by climbing up their stacks of neatly layered straw bales. I also found a great passion for horses, something that has stuck with me into adulthood.

By the time I’d finished school I’d found a love for all things fabric. With the highest grades in both art and textiles in A-Level, I went on to study Costume for Performance at the best fashion school in the country, London College of Fashion. The course enabled me to design and make clothes, something I now do in my spare time. I wear my own design of dungarees when I’m not in my chainsaw gear.

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After moving home to Lincolnshire when my degree was finished, I have since worked some interesting jobs before finding my love for all things trees! I have worked for an upholstery company, tractor repairs administrator, pet sitting services and finance assistant. By the time I retire I want to have a list as long as my leg of the different jobs I’ve done. I would not class myself as a career person at all. I want to be the crazy Auntie Grace that has stories to tell from all over the globe. 

Working as a tree surgeon is something I fell into after spending six months in Canada in 2019. I went over there to help out on a few different farms working with horses. The first four months I was helping train young and difficult horses for trail riding, spending hours in the saddle riding up through different mountain ranges. I have been riding since I was seven years old and I love the adventure the horse world can open up to you. The last farm I stayed at was in the middle of nowhere, overlooking the Monashee mountain range, which stretches 530 km from north to south in British Columbia. The farm was completely off-grid, no internet, no signal, a well for water, solar and generators for electricity, wood for heat. I lived in a small cabin with a couple of others. 

The farm had two parts to their business, horse trekking and a small forestry operation run by the owner, Andy, cutting down trees for telegraph poles. When it became apparent Andy needed some help with the forestry work after being let down by a local worker, me and a German girl called Vanessa were keen to step in. Having never had females working in the forestry business in the 25 years of having seasonal workers, me and Vanessa were keen to prove our worth. Over the next two months we learnt how to use chainsaws and were mainly tasked with de-limbing the fallen trees. We were also in charge of running the chain up and down the mountain side for the giant winch to pull the trees up to the yard for processing. It was a very physical job, but one we both loved. Andy also taught us how to assess each tree to know what makes a good telegraph pole and also let us have a go at felling later on in our stay. Any time we had spare time during work hours we would spend splitting logs for the winter stores.

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When I got back to the UK I was unsure about what I wanted to do. It was November and I did not want to go back to working in an office and not seeing daylight for days on end. After looking online I saw an advert for a trainee tree surgeon in my local town. I got in touch and went along for two trial days. Everyone on the team was really friendly, although I could tell I needed to prove myself as I was the only female applicant in 150. I worked hard over the two days and showed them I was eager to learn. After receiving a glowing reference from Andy in Canada, quote ‘She may be small, but give her a chance, I think she’ll surprise you’, a week later I was offered the job. Then I had that ‘oh shit’ moment of ‘ok, I’m going to be a tree surgeon then’ and the rest is history!

The last job I worked on as an employed arborist was in November 2022 when working for Woodcraft Tree Services. We had a week-long job taking down some large beech trees in a front garden overhanging a main road. All five trees were infected with an advanced root fungus that deemed them all extremely unpredictable, especially with the UK’s increased storm forecast and their large, broad crowns, with one already having come down six months before in the spring storm. 

We hired an 85-ft MEWP for the job which was only just big enough and had a large team working on the ground to ensure road safety and efficiency with disposing of all the branches and timber. Being site manager, this was a very demanding role for me. I split my time between being up in the basket with my college Iain focusing on cutting and rigging, reassuring the customer and explaining the work we were carrying out, organising my staff, talking to members of the public about why the trees were being taken down and how the area will be developed in the future.

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Along with talking to the hire company of the MEWP when we came into some technical difficulties on the last day. Being an arborist on large jobs like this is a highly dangerous and stressful occupation. I was pleased for the work to be completed on time and for all parties involved to be safe at the end of the week. We were all ready for a pint on that Friday evening!

I would say the proudest moment so far of working in the arb industry is becoming site manager for Woodcraft Tree Services. I had been working for the company for only two years. I was fully qualified and becoming more confident in arb knowledge, engaging with our customers and also showing good initiative with the day to day logistics. As my boss, Brett, was expanding the business and becoming increasingly busy with quoting, invoicing, advising our local council on tree work and working with local estates on long-term tree management, it was obvious he needed a right-hand woman. Of course there were some teething problems. I wanted to take the role seriously and saw it as a great opportunity for myself and also women in the industry.

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Because of that I was quite demanding as I learnt the ins and outs of the role. Brett had never had a site manager before so we had to learn together about how each of us prefer to communicate. Communication is absolutely key and not just for the logistics side of things, but how we both feel. 

I think the most important thing I’ve learnt is to try not to put too much pressure on myself and just have a go. I can sometimes be my own worst enemy when it comes to overthinking things.

Because I have had to prove myself in this job I am constantly putting demands on myself to get things right. I take my job very seriously and I want to succeed. However, this can also have negative effects and I need to remember that I’m only human. Everyone makes mistakes sometimes and not to beat myself up about it when I do.

During my time working in arb as a woman, I have had some very mixed experiences. I have been working in front gardens of people’s houses and had people cross the street to tell me how amazed they are to see a woman swinging around at the top of a 40 ft tree. I’ve been stopped in the supermarket, fully kitted up in my chainsaw gear, stinking to high heaven and covered in sawdust to talk about what I do and how amazing it must be. I have been chatting to strangers in the pub and witnessed the shock on their faces as they learn my profession. One of the most enjoyable experiences of being a woman in the industry was going to Park Hill Training Centre just outside Melton. I have completed all my qualifications there and each time I come home beaming. Every single instructor treated me with the same respect as any other student. I vividly remember one of the instructors saying that if they could hand-pick a team of climbers, it would be an all-women team. ‘Women are generally more considered, accurate and consistent in their work.’ This was a massive boost for me and gave me such confidence as a young woman learning the ropes.

READ MORE: Women in arb: South-west-based climber Annabelle Ozanne

I have also seen the other side. Turning up to customers’ houses, knocking on the door and having to smile off some sexist comment about being small and female. Or how I can’t possibly be site manager when standing next to my team of five, 6-foot-something male colleagues. People assume I am the partner of someone in the team and that’s how I got the job. 

Awareness, education and encouragement. I’ve met a few young women since I’ve been in this job that had no idea this kind of work even existed, let alone something they could do themselves. Obviously social media is now a great way to celebrate our varied achievements as women in the industry. I think it’s important to have each other’s backs when it comes to furthering our learning and not letting stereotypes hold us back.

I think there is also work to do when it comes to getting young people in general into the industry too. The best way to get kids interested in different career paths, especially ones that are linked to helping the environment and looking after the planet, is to get them outside. 

When I first started this job, I was shocked to find out that it’s a completely unregulated industry. Anyone can go to a shop, buy a chainsaw, van and chipper and set themselves up as a tree surgeon.

Working in the industry and learning how hard it can be to secure work was a surprise. It’s not only about knowing what you are doing but convincing the customers that you can be trusted to do the work, as many have had bad experiences in the past. I think there are a lot of ‘cowboys’ out there that give us good guys a bad name. The amount of times we have turned up at someone’s house to do work and the tree has been done so badly before it’s an embarrassment to the industry. Luckily the company I worked for had won multiple awards for the quality of work while I was there and my boss was very well educated when it came to the physiology of the trees. This always reflected in what we did and we never had any complaints about the work we carried out.

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However, I know the same can’t be said for many so-called tree surgeons out there. It would be a big step in the right direction if there was some sort of regulation when a new arborist company is set up. 

I have just come back from three months working and travelling around New Zealand. It was a decision I made back in April 2022 when they announced they were opening up applications for working holiday visas again. With an upcoming 31st birthday at the time, I knew that if I didn’t apply I would not have this opportunity again due to the age restriction stopping at 30. Luckily I was accepted and spent the summer in the UK saving up for my trip. I purchased a car in NZ and drove from north to south over the three months. During that time I stayed on a farm in the South Island called Erewhon Station, which is situated near Mt Somers and the Southern Alps. The farm has over 90 Clydesdale horses which they use for the majority of the farm work. During my stay I helped out with a lot of windthrown and storm-damaged trees.

Long term I would like to settle back in the UK. Possibly move to Wales and find myself a job doing some horse logging in one of the national parks. Another ambition of mine is to set up some kind of community living.