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Best course of intervention – No intervention

Best course of intervention – No intervention

As the title says, sometimes the best course of intervention is no intervention. What does this mean to us as Arborists? Well, quite simply sometimes we have to look beyond the financial rewards that this job brings. We should re-focus on why we all decided a life of tree climbing and caring for trees is what we chose to do, because lets face it, it’s hard, messy and dangerous work. Whilst it un arguably a fantastic profession, swinging around trees with chainsaws, there’s something bigger at stake.

If we don’t do the right things for our trees who will?

No intervention – why?

Without sounding too poetic – for the love of trees. Quite simply these are the most incredible living organisms on the planet (well at least this is my belief). They can be seem as our guardians, providing precious Oxygen for us to breath, forming micro- ecosystems themselves and generally being pretty damn impressive at growing enormous and standing up. This is why when we as Arborist come across old, veteran trees we should treat them with the respect they so rightfully deserve. Think – they have been standing sentinel for many years, through wars, floods, droughts, climate change and so on. In a fast moving world, trees offer us a sense of stillness and relaxation. They give us another perspective.

Dead wood is bad wood right?

NO! Dead wood is highly beneficial wood, it supports a whole host of insects and fungi that may not survive on live wood, it’s retention should be encouraged as much as possible. Clearly this is somewhat over shadowed sometimes by health and safety risks. Of course, a measured, professional decision should be made with regards to the retention of deadwood in the crown of a tree. My view is, if the tree is in an area of high public footfall then of course this somewhat out-trumps the retention of the wood in the crown. If, as the case here the tree is in a private estate and the owners are aware of the status of the tree (in this case the Fraxinus excelsior var Pendula – weeping ash is a Veteran tree) as the benefits then lets try to push for the course of less or even better no intervention.

Let’s leave the wood be, let’s leave it in the tree.

What is a Veteran tree?

A veteran tree can be any age, but it is a tree which shows ancient characteristics such as those below. These may not just be due to age, but could result from natural damage, management, or the tree’s environment.  This doesn’t mean it is an Ancient tree- we will talk about this later.

  • A low, fat and squat shape – because the crown has retrenched (reduced in size) through age
  • A wide trunk compared with others of the same species
  • Hollowing of the trunk (not always visible)

Cracks, hollow and cavities all point us in the direction of Veteran tree.

The above characteristics increase the tree’s value as habitat for wildlife (cavities, cracks hollows etc.)

Essentially if the tree looks like a battle scarred warrior it could well be a Veteran tree. This is not necessarily based on the age of the tree. A chronologically young tree could still be a veteran.

I think you’ll agree, the tree Joe is up is indeed a veteran.

How did we approach the job?

In short we did very little to the tree, there was one section that we had to remove some heavy wood as there was a fear that it’s weight would cause a much larger limb to be shed. This wood was cut and left at the base of the tree for local flora and fauna to make use of. Some photos were taken of the various cracks and wounds and our findings and recommendations will be passed on to our client. We were lucky in the fact that our client on this occasion is very much into their trees, and ecology as a whole. There was little explaining needed.

What next?

This tree will be monitored annually and risk managed by About Trees Ltd. Whilst not earning too much money on this job, what we have done is ensured this veteran tree sees more days and years and ultimately impressed upon our clients that we are a progressive, forward thinking company that is not interested in the quick buck. They will call us back when they need help or advice, we’ve started to build an honest professional relationship. That’s got to be worth it in the long run hasn’t it?


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Aerial rescue techniques

Aerial rescue techniques

Here’s the thing…. the temptation to squeeze in money paying work in is great, but sometimes there are more valuable and important things that can be done. None more so than the regular practice of Aerial Rescue techniques.

In case you aren’t aware – tree surgery is inherently dangerous, at best our Arborists are working with sharp handsaws and ropes, at worst it’s chainsaws! Pieces of wood weighing in excess of 250kg can be cut and lowered to the ground, or swung around (in a controlled manner). You don’t need to be a genius to realise the risks involved and the potential for very nasty outcomes. On a fairy regular basis Arborists are injured up trees, sometimes, in very tragic cases these injuries can be fatal. A young tree surgeon bled out in a tree in Clapham, London last year leaving a wife and two children. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

We need to do all we can to reduce these accidents happening in the first place, this is essentially an eduction process. We have ethos of safety first at About Trees, this seems to have installed good working practice amongst the team. Risk Assessments, whilst somewhat tedious are an invaluable tool to start conversations with regarding the site, the hazards and measures to be put in place. However, accidents do happen, how can we be sure we are well placed to deal with them?

Quick question…. who’s the best person to rescue an Arborist in trouble up a tree? Firefighter? Paramedic? Police? Coastguard? Spiderman?

The answer……

Another Arborist!

Yes that’s right, your colleagues on the ground, second climber, grounds person are the people who are going to save your life. They have to be competent, and calm in such a situation. They have to weigh up the scenario, act appropriately and SAVE a life. After all by the time the emergency services have found you on site it could be too late!

How can you be sure that all of these abilities will fall into place if the unimaginable happens?


Joe “rescuing” Nathan

When & Where?

So when we (About Trees) have a spare half day the urge to squeeze another little job in is resisted – instead, it’s Aerial Rescue techniques time. We find a large tree and essentially have a little play around with different scenarios. It may seem a little OTT but this is important and can save lives. Regular drills are imperative and increase the chance of a favourable outcome if the worst should ever occur. It’s about being confident.

Whenever we climb large trees we always install a rescue line up the tree so a rescuer can get to the victim quick sharp – it sets everyone’s mind at ease. Part of the risk assessment contains postcode/grid reference for emergency services, a mobile is kept with the team on the ground. These are all parts of the Aerial rescue tools we use.

A rescue plan is spoken over prior to all tree climbing commencing. A rescue kit, compromising of a full climbing kit and spikes (climbing irons) is laid out ready to go if needed as close to the tree as possible. Trauma first aid kits with Haemostats (blood clotting) products are always nearby. All of these measures, we hope add to a sense of being well looked after. The idea is to reduce stress on everyone. After all, if you feel as if you are being looked after, you feel safer.

Helping hand

Rescuers should be equipped with Emergency First aid training, they will have to use the techniques learned in the classroom on their colleague at height, regularly Arborists are working 25metres+ above ground level. So many companies will put their climbers at huge risk by not having a competent climber on the ground who can act as a rescuer. One word – IRRESPONSIBLE! We are talking about lives being at risk here.

No body within the industry will argue that aerial rescue techniques are not important to our industry. We are trained in Aerial rescue techniques at college before being allowed to climb trees using chainsaws, it’s the bare minimum a tree surgeon needs. So many of us get the ticket and then never re-visit of refresh our knowledge.

So it begs the question…

If it’s so important why are they so seldom practiced regularly?

As an industry we have access to the trees (clearly), the equipment (obviously) the people (um yeah). I can only draw one conclusion in answering the question. To me it all seems down to money! I understand, we are all in business to earn money, but this cannot be at any cost. Once a month, for less than half a day.  I’d wager that a huge proportion of tree companies do not practice Aerial Rescue on an annual basis.

We need to view this practice as “golden”.


Paul & Nathan making their way back to ground.

So, fellow “Arbs” resist that urge to earn a few quid more. Half a day once a month……. it could be the best half days work you’ve ever missed out on!

One last word


OK that was 3

If you need help or advice don’t forget, you can Contact us



Are your trees Autumn fit?


Are your trees Autumn fit ?

Ok, so we in the south seem to have been lucky and escaped Ex-Ophelia – phew!! But are your trees Autumn fit ?
Autumn gales are a particularly treacherous time for trees, this is because they are still in full leaf when the high winds pick up. Combine this with high rainfall and saturated soils (quite often the case this time of year) and you have a perfect recipe for the unthinkable happening. Especially if there are hidden undiscovered issues with the tree to start with.

Trust us, we know this to be the case. Armed with over 20 years industry and tree knowledge there’s not a lot that can get past us. We have your best interests at heart.
Why not ask us to come and take a look and offer you good old fashioned honest advice. Quite often a decent visual check of a are can be done without even needing to climb the tree.

Autumn colours of a Liquidambar styraciflua – sweet gum


What would are you looking for?

A decent Arborist will be able to inspect a tree from round level, using the knowledge he or she has built up over the years. This will be fed back with a balanced approach to risk, this is based on many factors. Risk to buildings, possessions and most importantly life. Inspecting trees needs a level head, the desire to make “knee-jerk” reactions has to be controlled. We must remember trees were designed to stand up, they do this incredibly well.

Structural defects.

Structural defects, such as tears in branches, bark peeling off, compromised root systems, abnormal bulges and lumps in the actual structure of the tree. All of these can point toward a point of failure in the future. Unusual bulges can be areas that are weak and have been reinforced by the tree. The tree will put down very strong wood to try to re-inforce structural weaknesses. This is called “Reactive Wood” and it it is very strong.

A windblown Cupressos macrocarpa – Monterey cypress flattens a car and side of house Christmas eve 2013.


Fungi & trees.

This is the time of year that we can start to look for fungi on our trees. The presence of fungi either around the roots or maybe on the tree itself is not always a sign of impending demise, quite often fungi and tree lie in a mutually beneficial relationship. This is called a Symbiotic relationship.
However, sometimes the presence of fungi is not such great thing to spot, they can drastically reduce a trees ability to function on a vascular levels and also cause catastrophic structural weakness.

Meripilus giganteus –  giant polypore; often found on Beech and is SERIOUS!

Laetiporus sulphureus – chicken of the woods; often found on the main stems of Poplar trees.

Armillaria mellea – honey fungus; beneficial in woodlands, not so great in your pride and joy garden.


These fungi affect their host trees in different ways, it takes an expert to be able to I.D. them and offer relevant advice.

There’s so much more that an Arborist can see, especially obsessed ones like us at About Trees. Allow us to make your trees Autumn fit this year Contact us

Time for the BIG GUNS

Time for the BIG GUNS

These jobs are few and far between and for a tree surgery company everyone involved really enjoys them. It’s a Time for the BIG GUNS  when a crane used in tree surgery it usually signifies something out of the ordinary is going to happen. It’s a totally different experience for the team, communications have to be tip top as any mis understandings can be fatal, the crane operator and his banks-men need to understand what branch is coming off next and where its going to go, the Arborist (in the tree) needs to know where the crane is going to move the cut branches to and the ground team need to be on top of their game also. They have to process the branches lowered to the ground quickly and efficiently as to cause no hold ups. Communication is key here, so walkie talkies were order of the day.

Possibly the most crucial part of the entire undertaking is the knowledge of the Arborist –  in the case Joe. He has to be able to estimate the weights of the branches before he cuts them as to not over load the crane. There”s a lot of pressure on the Arborist shoulders with a crane job!


Quite simply, the tree had become too large. It was causing issues for neighbours and was deemed a headache for both the owners and neighbours it’s structural stability was questionable also. We had to use the crane here as the tree was simply too far from the access point into the garden, luckily we could use a nearby car park and lift the branches over the wall of the owner’s garden, several other gardens and down into our processing area – the car park. We had liaised with the car park owners and shut it down for the duration of the contract. Naturally we had made the local council aware of our intentions as it was a tree within a Conservation area.

How did it go?

In short, very well indeed despite the horrendous weather. Each lift that the crane made came in at around the 1tonne mark and we had 20 or so lifts. Its was a BIG tree! Despite this the tree was down safely within the day. The following 2 days were spent clearing the site, removing the wood and all evidence of us having been on site.

So, don’t forget, we really can say to you… No job is too big – we mean it.

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Stihl MS880 chainsaw

Huge Lime trees dismantled with Stihl MS880 chainsaw

This was really something for the crew to get stuck into. Two Huge Lime trees dismantled safely with Stihl MS880 chainsaw  (Tilia x europaea). What a job it turned out to be. It tested the skill, stamina and communication of the team to the maximum. A lot of the time, Team Leader – Joe found himself over 100ft away from his work colleagues. That’s 100ft vertically away. So yes, comms were used to make sure all members on site were fully aware of what’s going on and where they need to be. Large…very large chainsaws were used and modern, new rigging equipment used to lower safely to the ground at least 75% of the trees. Impact on the ground was minimal. In fact apart from the trees being no longer there is little signs of us having been there.

Why were the Lime trees dismantled?

The trees had been surveyed previously by an independent Arboriculturalist and been deemed physiologically unsound. Such was their size and location they had to be felled. Our client, whom we have worked for on several jobs such as this along with highways clearance works  asked us to carry out the work. First we liaised with the local authority – Tonbridge and Malling council to obtain correct permissions, then last week we made a start on the work itself. It was gruelling 10 days of hard graft, lumping wood, loading wood, un loading wood.

What’s a Stihl MS880 chainsaw?

A new Stihl MS880 chainsaw was purchased in order to make the final cuts on the tree stems. This saw is 125 cc and is a real beast, it weighs in at 20kg including a 48inch bar and saw chain. It’s pretty much the latest chainsaw available in Europe. It also is a real work out using it, you can only imagine how tough it is using it up the tree from a rope and harness. TOUGH

Sounds hard?

It was tough going, lots of rigging with ropes, heavy wood, heavy saws, heavy everything. The crew performed amazingly and were subject of lots of people watching their exploits.  All in all we removed approx. 40 tonnes of arisings from site and left sight very little signs of having been present. The stumps were then ground away to allow for the soil to be improved and re-turfed. Great effort lads, they earn a few easy days off that back of it.

So, don’t forget, we really can say to you… No job is too big – we mean it

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British Standards 3998 2010

British Standards 3998 2010

Now, the thing is with decent Arboriculture (tree surgery) is the ideal is to leave a tree looking as natural as possible and little signs of human interference noticeable. It’s British Standards 3998 2010 Recommendations for Tree Work and we try our hardest to prune to this at all time, as should all respectable companies.

What’s the issue?

Problem is, human nature wants more for it’s money and so quality work such as todays superb efforts from the lads often get dismissed as “well, is that all you’ve done?” The answer is yes it is all we’ve done, the skill in being able to prune a tree like this is so much greater than hitting it hard. I’d like to point out, our client is sympathetic to what we are trying to achieve both on this tree and as a greater mission with all of their trees on the numerous sites they own, and so was more than happy with the results.

Imagine being on the tips of this tree and being able to control your body weight, balance, keep an eye on the ground, make decent cuts to the tree (which won’t cause long term physiological damage), not cause any damage to property or possessions and still attain this quality of workmanship. This is exactly what Joe managed to do, and what a great result he has achieved. Top work Joe – Cheers.

Mantra is LESS IS MORE people – less is more.

Feel free to Contact us anytime.

Ash Dieback “Top Ten Tips”

Ash Dieback Top Ten Tips

Just before Christmas, ProArb – a leading industry magazine asked me as a regular contributor to provide an article for their February issue. The premise was to provide a Ash Dieback Top Ten Tips for the practitioners of Arboriculture. I tried to take a slightly different approach and provide a more holistic approach and not fill my article with facts and figures.

What I came up with…. the article in full.

The published article is edited and I think better for it It can be viewed on the ProArb website.

Ash Dieback top ten tips


We are starting to see a substantial amount of Fraxinus excelsior – common ash with signs of Ash Dieback (ADB) and I think year on year for the foreseeable future it is likely to be more common place with us dealing with the trees, the owners and the risks both real and perceived. Some knowledge on the subject is vital in order for us as professionals to be able to offer advice that is correct, honest and suitable. It’s a serious situation and the appearance of Hymenoscyphus fraxineus fungus (used to be called Chalara fraxinea) in Britain has left the future of this widespread woodland, hedgerow and urban tree unknown let’s not forget Ash is said to be the 4th most common tree in Britain with an estimated population of between 90-120 million.

Currently there is NO cure for Hymenoscyphus fraxineus  (Chalara)

As professional Arborists we should be able to identify, and put in place management strategies to ensure our customers are well informed and have options that they can choose from. Yes of course we could all take the approach to fell ALL ash trees that show the signs of ADB – after all they’re going to die anyway aren’t they?

I’m pretty sure this ISN’T the way forward, there’s a degree of management of these trees that we can adopt. I think we can manage the risk and take a more holistic approach

Let’s have a look at my Top Ten Tips on how to manage Ash Dieback. It’s by no means exhaustive and for the main part is my interpretation on how we as a company work and maybe it reflects the industry as a whole. There’s a few fact included which may help get a handle on the significance of the disease also:

  • Positive identification. This has to be where we start off after all if we cannot ID it what recommendations can we offer. Springtime is an ideal time to spot the signs of ADB – wilting growth and possibly even bark lesions. You may see scars on the main stems; they are darker in colour to the surrounding wood and are often centered around a small shoot that has also died. With the exception of canker, lesions are general quite rare in ash and so this is the tell-tale sign. These scars may also be present on the smaller branches. Is the top of the tree dead? If so, this is characteristic of ADB – This happens because the fungus enters through the leaves in the crown of the tree. If the leaves have fallen there will be a distinctive dis-coloration on them, take a look at surrounding ash trees and the difference will be apparent – browning on the leaf stalk and discoloration on the underside of the leaf (yellow to brown).
  • Ok, so we are confident that we have positively ID’d ADB, what next? Well, we need to make a judgment call on the extent of the infection and assess risk this posses. I think the best current advice is from the Forestry Commission, they state: “Public safety is likely to be one the biggest management issues for owners of ash trees in woodlands, parks, roadsides etc. as the disease kills or weakens trees over the coming years. Trees in areas with high levels of public access need to be monitored carefully for risks to public safety, and some felling or pruning of dead or dying trees is advisable if risk assessments show they are a hazard.”
  • Not all of us are involved in the forestry side of operations, but we can learn something from the investigations that have been carried out by Defra and FC. We know that younger trees are most susceptible to ADB and are killed rapidly. This is useful knowledge for us when assessing an entire site and maybe can dictate to us timescales for when sites i.e. gardens, roadside boundaries etc. should be re-monitored.
  • Can we cure ADB? In short it seems the answer is no, but we can put in to place measures to help reduce the risk of further spread. This focuses efforts on reducing the level of spores present. As we know fungi for the most part like damp conditions, therefore if we can help increase light levels and airflow into densely planted areas at risk this could be beneficial. Maybe consider the selective and responsible thinning out of densely planted stands of trees. But by far and away the most effective option in reducing the spread of the spores and therefore disease is to encourage the owners, (or if they’re willing to pay you) to remove all ash leaf litter from around the trees in the autumn and winter to reduce the local source of spores the following summer.
  • Arisings – what do we do with them? We’ve just felled an ash tree that we diagnosed as having an ADB infection, what measures should we have in place so we don’t spread the spores and infect other trees nearby? Current advice seems to contradict itself a little, but my interpretation is; with regards to the removal of arisings, unless a Statutory Plant Health notice has been served the wood/timber can be removed. The leaf matter should not be removed from site. Several options are available, they are; composting, burial and incineration. Composting is the least preferred option because we are still not 100% sure in the effectiveness of this, burial works well but please be aware, that if we as contractors bury our arisings we are effectively land-filling and as such should have a permit to do so (a private person needs no such permit). I’d go with a cheap incinerator (dustbin type) and burn them.
  • Infected urban and veteran trees. OK, so I’ve lifted this directly from the Forestry Commission’s website, but I think this is most pertinent to us as responsible and professional Arbs.“ There should not be a presumption to fell these trees. Veteran trees in particular can provide many important environmental and social benefits, even when dead. Any work on a tree should be undertaken after a risk assessment, which should consider age, condition, the number of other trees in the locality and their species, the potential risk of further infection, and the danger to the public. The cost of taking or not taking action is also likely to be a factor in any final decision.” This advice is very similar to that given for hedgerow trees and those in rural situations. I guess what I’m trying to say that a dead tree is still a tree, it’s still valuable, it still provides a wealth of habitat and is still a wondrous thing to look at. I think a lot of us Arbs are guilty of regarding a dead tree as useless and something that has to be dealt with, usually by their removal – felling. My view is the driving force behind our decisions must be SAFETY and we should view trees as equally as valuable in terms of habitat etc. when dead.
  • Large mature trees in open surroundings such as street and parks etc. can survive and sometimes escape infection for many years. Urban situations help these trees out because the dark damp woodland environment is clearly not an issue, leaf matter is usually removed by the LA and secondary damage by bark beetles and basel infections which further stress trees are less likely in the urban environment.
  • study based on the infections in Denmark show that there is a 1% resistance to ADB amongst ash trees; these trees show a less than 10% dieback in their Crowns. Using these figures for Britain this means there could be some 2 million disease resistant trees in the countryside – somewhere. That’s not many, so we really should refrain from becoming a little too chainsaw happy when around ash trees. A recent research paper dated from end of 2016 (Journal of Nature) states that after genome sequencing the British ash trees may be significantly more resistant than Danish trees, this is positive news, but lets all air on the side of caution for the time being.
  • How do we approach ADB? As a company we do not see this as a cash cow situation, I feel we need to move our industry on and strive to make the general population aware that we as Arborists are educated and trustworthy professional trades people. We will use our knowledge (which is by no means exhaustive) to obtain a suitable and safe outcome. This is our chance to build a relationship with clients, offer decent honest advice and realise they want someone they can trust. I’m not afraid to put my hands up to a client and say we need more qualified advice on this – to suggest a visit from a consultant would be a wise move.
  • Ultimately we are dealing with dead or dangerous trees – this is what we do, right? Climbing or working from a MEWP on a dead Ash tree from ADB carries the same risks as any other dead tree job. So as always take care and work safe.

Hope you waded through my Ash Dieback Top Ten Tips  OK. If you need help please take a look at


Awarded Technician Member status. Certified.

Technician Member

It’s always nice to know that you’re recognised as an expert in your chosen field. That’s why it was a proud moment to have the certificate of membership awarded to me at Technician level with the Arboricultural association.  This is our trade body and they are tasked with progressing the industry as a whole. I think they do a great job. If their efforts help drive out unscrupulous tradesmen and cowboys then it can’t be all bad. All hail the Arb Association Technician.

Arboricultural association?

Is a charity that promotes professional tree care to the wider public, it’s a charity and essentially our governing body. They carry out regular training days, knowledge improving courses. We try to attend whenever possible, sometimes we just can’t due to our work load. Quite often we expand our professional publications library via their online book shop. It’s a great place to keep up to date on the most recent research.

Arb Association Technician?

Well, it means that during my time within the industry – 20 years and the qualifications held by me, that I am recognised as having a degree of knowledge of trees, their biology and appropriate actions to undertake to over come situations in all things related trees. Clearly I could just be saying this so maybe it’s worth checking out the Testimonials page to see what our clients both domestic and commercial think of  our services.

I like to think it sets About Trees apart from other companies. It shows a commitment to an industry that has treated me well over the last 20 years. My Technician member number is TE02523



70 metre hedge made easy with Cherry picker

Hedge cutting using a Cherry picker


Quite possible the only way to reduce the overall height of this hedge was by using a MEWP. We hired a suitable 16metre machine in from Nationwide Platforms. The functionality for this machine meant it could be driven whilst in the bucket itself and the reach enabled us to reach even the furthest points. There are several members on the About Trees team that have the qualifications to use this type of machine. This enables us to carry out hedge cutting using a cherry picker


Following concerns raised by neighbours, our client accepted the report on the health of the trees that we provided along with the suggestion of remedial works. They instructed us to carry out the works so we set to the task in hand.

The job was made even more challenging by the public footpath that ran underneath one side of the hedge. Naturally we signed this area, to make pedestrians aware of over head operations and made use of extra staff the patrol the footpath.  SAFETY FIRST!

Thanks to our efforts, all went as planned and the hedge (even if I do say so) turned out fantastic. Safe and attractive.

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MEWP – IPAF Qualifications refreshed

Investing in and developing the About Trees team

We are now IPAF qualified tree surgeons -again!

Quite often we have to use Mobile Elevated Work Platforms (MEWP’s) to work on dangerous and unsafe trees. These are very specialist pieces of equipment and are very productive. However if used by someone who isn’t qualified they can be incredibly dangerous. We take safety very seriously and as such have just sent 2 members of the team on a training course to re fresh and learn the usage of the two types of machines we are most likely to use – Mobile Boom and Static Boom. About Trees are IPAF qualified tree surgeons.

The course was run by OTS in Ashford, it was a fun day, very informative and full of useful lessons. It’s hard to really get across how dangerous these machines are if used by un-trained people. Most importantly a decent lunch was put on, the way to all tradespeople’s hearts!

This means we can legally and safely use these invaluable pieces of kit for you. At your house, property or premises and you can be safe in the knowledge we know what we are doing


If you have a dangerous unsafe tree, it may need a MEWP to carry out the works safely, we can help. Contact us today