Dr Terry Mabbett visits three separate Arborcare projects in St Albans and chats to the teams involved.

WHEN I ask arborists, and especially the more youthful ones, what they particularly like about the work, variety invariably comes out on top. It’s refreshing to know that some of Britain’s youngsters are studiously avoiding a working life staring at screens and consuming autoclaved coffee from office drinks machines.

Arb work is inherently varied in location and situation, and also in type due to the diversity in tree size and species. This was something brought home to me during a day out in St Albans, Hertfordshire, in June 2019 with one of the county’s bigger arb contractors and carrying out tree work for St Albans City and District Council. I was with three arb teams from Arborcare Herts, based at Todds Green near Stevenage, and well looked after by Brian Cole, Arborcare’s project manager.


Forestry Journal: The Arborcare team at St Peter’s Church. Adam Piekarski, Ashli Jenkins and Dan Cameron.The Arborcare team at St Peter’s Church. Adam Piekarski, Ashli Jenkins and Dan Cameron.

I always treasure a trip to St Albans, my place of birth and the market town patronised by generations of my agrarian ancestors, who resided in surrounding villages like London Colney, Shenley, Sandridge and Bricket Wood.

St Albans is the oldest town in Hertfordshire and can reasonably claim to be the cultural centre of this county. It has always been a well-kept city with a rich tree heritage, and not surprising since modern-day St Albans has roots in Roman Britain as the ancient Roman City of Verulamium.

However, there was a thriving settlement even before then as a Celtic, Iron-Age settlement called Verlamion, which means ‘settlement above the marsh’.

The original Celtic settlement was on the Watling Street, a trackway linking Canterbury and St Albans and crossing the River Thames at a ford near Westminster. It was subsequently paved and extended northwestwards by the Romans to Wroxeter (Shrewsbury) and evolving into today’s A5.

Today’s trees and woodland provide landscape and leisure facilities and functions for the city’s inhabitants, but two millennia ago, woodland and trees would have had a much more practical role.  The original Celtic settlement was built almost entirely of wood and apparently destroyed during the revolt of Boudicca (Celtic Queen of the Iceni tribe of modern-day East Anglia) in A.D. 60–61.

So much for history but two millennia later I was in St Albans to meet three of Arborcare’s five arb teams at a trio of very diverse sites – a public playing field, a roadside site and inside the graveyard surrounding one of St Albans’ biggest and best-known places of worship. The teams were carrying out distinctly different types of arb work on a wide range of trees, as I was soon to discover.


Forestry Journal: Arborcare has a fleet of five new Timberwolf 230 six-inch chippers.Arborcare has a fleet of five new Timberwolf 230 six-inch chippers.

First port of call was St Peter’s Anglican Church at the very heart of St Albans City. St Peter’s is not the city’s most famous place of worship; that would be St Albans Abbey, one of the finest of its kind in England. However, St Peter’s is a fine Christian church, believed to pre-date the Norman Invasion, and surrounded by extensive old burial grounds where a team of three from Arborcare were working on a mighty black walnut tree. Juglans nigra is a native of eastern North America, although this one was clearly well at home in Hertfordshire, and unusually and interestingly as a big multi-stemmed specimen.

The tree appeared to have been coppiced many years ago when simply a sapling. It now sports and supports four massively over-stood coppice poles measuring
19.6 m to compete in height with the tower at the top of St Peter’s Church. According to Ellsworth Benson (The Fundamentals of Black Walnut Production, University of Nebraska at Lincoln – 1967) coppicing has been widely used in commercial production of black walnut in North America.

The tree had been struggling with ivy and also a fast-growing and substantial sycamore regenerated from seed very close to the collar of the black walnut tree. Brian Cole told essentialARB how his team were removing dead wood and any crossing branches. The ivy had already been cut at the base of the tree and the sycamore would be dealt with at a later date, following discussion with the client.

Forestry Journal: Ashli Jenkins is the first female climbing arborist I have had the pleasure to meet and feature in an article for essentialARB.Ashli Jenkins is the first female climbing arborist I have had the pleasure to meet and feature in an article for essentialARB.

Apart from the multi-stemmed structure of this black walnut tree, which is not an overly common species on the UK landscape even in its usual single-stemmed form, there was another and much more important first for me. High in the tree was Ashli Jenkins, almost certainly the first female climbing arborist I have had the pleasure to meet in a decade of visits and articles for essentialARB magazine. Ashli and colleague Dan Cameron, armed with 280 cm (ml) Silky saws, had already pruned and dropped a considerable amount of dead wood, which for the most part was heavily encrusted with lichen to verify its vintage.

The third team member was Adam Piekarski, also a qualified climber, but dealing with low hanging, dead and dying branches using a 390 cm (ml) Silky saw fitted to an extension pole. Adam was chipping all the debris using one of the company’s five brand new Timberwolf 230 six-inch chippers.

Adam told essentialARB how he initially trained in his native Poland but continued studying in the UK via a fast-track six-week course at a training centre in Carmarthenshire, West Wales, gaining all his tickets, including those for felling and climbing. From there he went into the utility arb sector working on trees along power lines in Shropshire and neighbouring counties before joining Arborcare.

Having just turned 18, Dan Cameron is the youngest arborist on the Arborcare payroll. Dan studied at Shuttleworth College in Bedfordshire, where he gained the Level 2 Forestry qualification. He has been with Arborcare for seven months. When asked what he liked about the job, Dan’s answer was typical of the UK’s up-and-coming young arborists – varied outdoor work requiring a wide range of skills and expertise, and not to forget, the good, healthy exercise.

Ashli Jenkins, who is 20 years old, joined Arborcare eight months ago after gaining an Extended Level 3 Diploma in Arboriculture from Moulton College in Northamptonshire and covering, as Ashli says, ‘the whole arb works’, including felling and climbing. I asked her why she went into arboriculture.

“I saw the opportunity to do something completely different,” Ashli said. She is clearly enjoying her work at Arborcare, which she describes as “a modern and open-minded company prepared to invest heavily in ongoing training for its entire workforce”.


Forestry Journal: Arborcare team working on the roadside Norway maple. (l-r) Ryan Skipper, Brian Cole (project manager), Brad Nicholls. In the tree is Sam Arnold.Arborcare team working on the roadside Norway maple. (l-r) Ryan Skipper, Brian Cole (project manager), Brad Nicholls. In the tree is Sam Arnold.

All too quickly it was time to drive across the city to Sandpit Lane where another team was carrying out a significant reduction on a big roadside tree. From a distance, it looked like a sycamore but, closer up, it was clearly not. Fissured bark confirmed the tree as a Norway maple. Measuring up at a DBH (diameter at breast height) of 75 cm and a canopy height of 17.2 m, this was clearly one of the biggest if not the biggest Norway maples I have seen in a roadside situation. This naturalised European native species can achieve a DBH of 190 cm and heights of at least 30 m.

By the time we arrived, the tree was undergoing a significant crown reduction and, although close to a high brick wall belonging to a private residence, was not overly close to the road, so I wondered why they were carrying out such a substantial canopy reduction.

I soon discovered why when Ryan Skipper, one of the three-man team, pointed out extensive and clearly significant bark necrosis on the wall-side of the tree, starting some 3 m up where the main stem started to fork and extending onto the scaffold branches.

Up the tree was Sam Arnold, safe and secure but highly mobile in his Petzel Zig-Zag and Hitch Climber system, and cutting the tree with a top-handle MS 201 TC Stihl saw. On the ground Ryan Skipper was using MS 261 and MS 362 Stihl saws to cut up the branches. Third member of the team, and operating another of Arborcare’s Timberwolf 230 six-inch chippers, was Brad Nicholls, also a qualified climber, who has been with Arborcare for two years.

Brad trained on the job with Arborcare, attending Shuttleworth and Kingswood training centres to gain his tickets. Brian Cole explained how this training involves a 12-day stint at a training centre. The trainee returns several days later for assessment and to obtain one ticket.

“We will pay for each and every one of our trainee arborists to gain a full complement of tickets,” said Brian Cole.


Ryan Skipper has been with Arborcare for just a few weeks, but has clearly settled in and is enjoying the work. Ryan told essentialARB how the company is putting him through his tickets at Kingswood training centre to become a fully qualified climbing arborist. 

Sam Arnold, climber for the day, trained on the job with Arborcare, who put him through his formal training and tickets at training centres in Oxfordshire and Kent. Asked what he particularly likes about arb work Sam said: “The sheer variety of the work with every day different, and a bit of excitement to get the adrenaline going.”

So far all six arborists were qualified climbers or training to that status so I asked Brian Cole if Arborcare’s ethos and policy was behind this.

“Very much so,” said Brian. “Company policy is to pay for anyone who wishes to climb to take the necessary training.”


Forestry Journal: Arborcare’s Mitsubishi grab truck fitted with HMF crane in action lifting oak logs at Victoria Playing Field.Arborcare’s Mitsubishi grab truck fitted with HMF crane in action lifting oak logs at Victoria Playing Field.

Last port of call was Victoria Playing Field where the third team were already well on the way to completely dismantling and removing a veteran English oak (pedunculate oak – Quercus robur) on the grounds of public safety. Clearly, it had been a mighty tree, but with extensive fungal rotting in the higher reaches and therefore huge potential for damage, should any of the main branches fail. The tree was close to a main road, although most of the canopy was over the playing field, and ultimately the reason for the difficult decision to remove a 200-year-old tree.

No-one likes to dismantle old trees, especially veteran oaks, but when it comes to safety, and especially for children, there is essentially no choice. After all, you can always plant a replacement tree, which St Albans City and District Council had already done – in fact, two English oak trees to replace the one that was coming down. Brian Cole said the oak tree would be taken down to ground level and its stump ground out using a Predator stump grinder.

Arborists on site were James Ellary, Ian Cade and Ben Murphy. James Ellary, who has been with Arborcare for seven months, had just started training at Shuttleworth to become a qualified climbing arborist.  James told essentialARB how the varied work allows him to get out and about and take in a range of different scenery.

“Everyone is friendly at Arborcare, which is the best company I have worked for,” said James.

Ian Cade qualified as a climbing arborist while with Arborcare, though along a somewhat different route, completing an apprenticeship in arboriculture followed by one-day courses to obtain his tickets.

Last but not least was Ben Murphy, one of Arborcare’s longer-standing employees with over six years on the clock. Ben trained on the job and obtained his tickets from the training centre at Shuttleworth.

There was not enough time in the day to observe dismantling of the oak, with climbers using Stihl 201TC saws and the logs cut up using Stihl MS 500i and MS 660 ground saws. However, we were in time to see Arborcare’s custom-built Mitsubishi grab truck in action, fitted with HMF crane of maximum 3-tonne load and clearly required, given the size and weight of logs from this double centenarian tree.

Forestry Journal: The veteran oak at Victoria Playing Field displayed significant fungal rot and the reason for its removal for public safety reasons. James Ellary pictured.The veteran oak at Victoria Playing Field displayed significant fungal rot and the reason for its removal for public safety reasons. James Ellary pictured.


Over lunch I had the opportunity to ask Brian Cole more detailed questions about Arborcare. With 25 workers, Arborcare is not the biggest arb company in Hertfordshire, but certainly one of the busiest. “We put out five teams every day,” said Brian, “two of which are in Dacorum Borough in north-west Hertfordshire. We have long standing contracts including for emergency cover with this local authority.”

Forestry Journal: Sam Arnold, safe and secure but highly mobile with a Petzel Zig-Zag and Hitch Climber system.Sam Arnold, safe and secure but highly mobile with a Petzel Zig-Zag and Hitch Climber system.

The company has a substantial fleet of vehicles including four Mitsubishi Canters, five Ford Transits and a Ford Transit panel van.

“We have built up a fleet of five Timberwolf 230 six-inch chippers, having tried other makes but finding Timberwolf the most reliable and easier to maintain,” added Brian.

“Our stock of 30+ chainsaws is exclusively from Stihl. Saws from some other leading manufacturers are equipped with a computer chip dedicated to the user. This can cause problems for repeatability and reliability in arboriculture, where they are essentially ‘pool’ saws and applied every day by a number of different users. All of our protective and safety equipment is purchased from Honey Brothers Ltd,” said Brian.

Forestry Journal: At just 18 years of age, climbing arborist Dan Cameron is the youngest worker on the Arborcare payroll.At just 18 years of age, climbing arborist Dan Cameron is the youngest worker on the Arborcare payroll.

I had not seen any electric saws but Brian said the company had invested in Stihl electric toppers (MSA 160 T) and electric ground saws (MSA 200 C), which are used by the teams in Dacorum.

Arborcare is CHAS (Contractors Health and Safety) accredited but not ARB (Arboricultural Association) approved. I asked Brian why this was so.

“It is simply a case of recognition by the type and range of clients we work for,” he explained.

“CHAS accreditation is widely recognised by local authorities, construction companies and those in property management. In contrast, ARB approval is very much an incestuous thing and until it becomes known outside of the arb bubble it is not worth the time, trouble and money. I relayed my feelings to the ARB Association on this matter three years ago. They said they were working on it.”