Forestry Journal:

This piece is an extract from essentialARB's the Arborist newsletter, which is emailed out at 6PM on the first of every month, with a round-up of the latest goings-on in arboriculture. 

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IN recent years, it has been tricky to find an arborist who could complain about a lack of work. And that's no bad thing. More labour for the UK's tree surgeons means (you'd like to hope) more people are taking tree care seriously, and less likely to rely on a fella from the pub who says he can borrow his mate's chainsaw for the afternoon. 

But, as we motor on through 2024, it feels timely to ask just what is the current state of arboriculture in the country?

A look on Companies House perhaps provides some tentative answers. A search for all the firms that have 'silviculture and other forestry activities' listed as their main function (which tree surgeons appear to be filed under) shows that, since the start of 2020, 111 businesses have dissolved. That's a rate of 37 per year. But since the start of 2010, it is 166, or around five per year in the decade between 2010 and 2020. 

Forestry Journal:

An initial survey suggests around half of these companies are related to arboriculture in some shape or form (be it consultancy or being a registered tree surgeon). 

Now, this data is pretty raw and there appears to be straightforward reasoning for some dissolutions (company mergers etc), but that's still a striking difference between this decade and the last, whatever the grounds.

Several figures within the industry have suggested to eA that the stark contrast between the two time periods is, at least in part, down to the COVID boom and subsequent bust (if it's fair to call it that), which, it's argued, saw many trying to enter the arb game at its pandemic-enforced peak, only to struggle as the work dried up.

Other machinery manufacturers have told eA the order book isn't quite what it was a mere matter of months ago. It was only last year that FR Jones, a major player in the supply chain, went under, and that's had a knock-on effect on businesses across the country.

There are likely a myriad of reasons for why so many arb-related companies have struggled in recent years, but we don't have the space to go into them here. 

And for that matter, for every arborist suggesting times are tough, there is another pointing to the sheer abundancy of work, even if it is always a challenge to get the message out beyond the industry's four walls. 

Speaking to essentialARB at APF 2022, John Parker, the chief executive of the Arboricultural Association, said: “Arboriculture is in a good position, but it’s not as strong as it should be.

Forestry Journal: New machinery continues to be launched for the arb market New machinery continues to be launched for the arb market (Image: EA)

"Everyone is talking about trees and tree planting, and people understand trees are an important thing. But we are still trying to convince them that if they want them to do what they want, we need a strong, healthy arboriculture profession behind it." 

So is arb in a good or a bad place right now? The picture will probably become clearer in the coming months.