Branch out to go up in the world

Sam Freakley, 28, is an arborist (tree surgeon), with his own firm, Axon Tree Services, in Foulsham, Norfolk.

Why do you love your job?

I like working outdoors, doing a physical job. It's not just cutting down trees - there's a lot of satisfying problem-solving. I enjoy calling the shots and being my own boss. I used to work in London, in the IT department of a big company. I'd see people getting off at the same stop and going into the same building every day, and it reminded me of little ants going into a nest.

What sort of things do you have to do?

Arborists make sure that trees are safe, healthy and well-managed. You can start off as a groundsman, dragging bits of wood around, and then train to climb, prune and fell trees, rescue people from trees, use a chainsaw, and use a chipper to shred up waste. If you're not fit enough to climb, you soon learn - it comes with practice, and a lot of it is to do with techniques rather than strength.

Is there any advice that you'd give someone with their eye on your job?

Be prepared to stick at it. To set yourself up as an arborist, you're looking at two to three years of experience working with other people, to get a feel for what's going on. You could work for a local firm; or, if you want to start as a self-employed contractor, you can get crucial experience from working with other arborists a couple of days a week until you get to the stage where your own business picks up. See the Arboriculture Association at, and the International Society of Arboriculture at

What sort of skills should a good arborist have?

There are qualifications for every single thing you can possibly think of, and you'll need a number of these before anyone will employ you. You've got to have a pragmatic approach - if there's a tree that's dying, and bang underneath it there's a car, you'll have to work round it and figure out how to deal with any other obstacles. And you'll need a head for heights, as it gets a bit scary.

How's the career progression and salary?

Once you have extensive first-hand experience as a contractor, you can work as a private consultant, advising individuals, councils, and companies. You're not going to get rich quick. Salaries start from £12,000- £15,000 a year, but they can rise to £30,000. There are easier ways of earning the same money, but the reward is worth it.

You can contact Axon Tree Services on 07813 825523