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Quit your job, become an... arborist

Written by
Michael Curle

Gavin Bodenham, 42, arborist at Epping Forest for the City of London Corporation

Obviously I know what an arborist is, but for the benefit of our readers…

‘I care for and preserve ancient trees - 55,000 of them - in Epping Forest. It’s a huge amount of work. I spend hours at a time climbing trees, working with chainsaws. All this is done with a rope and a harness.’

Tree-mendous. So how did you get started?

‘I grew up in Devon and spent most of my childhood running round the woods. When I was younger I moved to London and worked some unsatisfying jobs, travelled for a bit. It was only when I realised you could get paid to climb trees that the light came on, really.’

Tell me about the ancient trees. How do you preserve them?

‘Some of our beech trees are estimated to be 500 years old. We remove the younger trees around them so they can access more light. Because of their height, many of the big trees are structurally unstable. So we climb up and reduce the canopies, which reduces the 'sail area' so the wind can’t cause them to fall.’

It sounds oddly thrilling.

‘I actually go to bed excited if I know I’ve got a big climb the next day. Moving three-dimensionally through the forest canopy is so exhilarating. We also get to operate some pretty cool machinery - armoured tractors, huge cherry-pickers. I get huge satisfaction from the job. We’re recreating a historic landscape within the M25.’

That’s the upside. Literally. What’s the downside?

‘Sometimes, on safety grounds, we have to remove trees. That’s always sad. Then there’s the thick mud in the winter, the achy bones and the, um, dog mess. If you get that on your rope when you’re climbing it’s not very nice. Also, lose concentration up in the tree and something nasty can happen.' 

Do you ever dream you’re falling from a great height?

‘Thankfully, no! You learn to turn off the fact that you’re 70ft in the air perched on a branch that’s the width of a broom handle.’

Hours: 40hrs p/w

Starting salary: £16,000 p/a

Qualifications Various: NPTC qualifications

Or why not become a gunmaker?

Image: Rob Greig

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