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Crazy Cowboy Tree Surgeon fails: the cost of ignorance

9th January 2021

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Working as a tree surgeon is like skydiving, it’s relatively safe, so long as you have the right training and equipment. Attempt it without putting in all the hours of study and experience and, well, let’s just say the results won’t be pretty!

I’ve spent my career perfecting my craft, focusing on quality of workmanship and training, training, training, then surrounding myself with a team of tree surgeons with a similar dedication to the job. This year all that hard work has paid off and Thor’s Trees has been awarded the prestigious accolade of becoming an ARB approved contractor. Unfortunately, for every qualified and committed tree surgeon, there are many cowboys to watch out for. So, this article is about a few of the worst cowboy fails I’ve recalled hearing about over the years.

Tree surgeon fails #1: Yes, we’re fully insured!

One of the scariest stories I’ve ever heard from a customer was of a tree surgeon who was using a fake insurance certificate to fool customers into thinking that they were a valid contractor.

The certificate was real enough when it was taken out, but the tree surgeon cancelled the policy the very next day because they didn’t want to have to pay for the insurance – they just wanted the certificate to flash in front of customers in the hope that nobody would check up on them. This client was a little savvier than that and on checking with the insurance company, promptly asked the uninsured contractor to leave.

TOP TIP: Always ask a tree surgeon you don’t know to provide you with a copy of their insurance documents so you can check they are valid. While you’re at it, you should also ask them for a copy of their qualifications and a printed and exact quote for the work they intend to do in your garden.

Tree surgeon fails #2: Look out below!

A firm in Dorset was called in to clear up the mess left by tree surgeons who had been instructed to trim a 40ft hedge. What they found was incredible. The previous firm had decided that rather than take away all the trimmings (including some quite thick branches) they’d simply leave them balancing in the topmost foliage of the hedge.

The hedge overhung a busy walkway and cycle path, so can you imagine the damage it could have done if those branches had dislodged in a wind and fallen the 40ft onto a passer-by? Tree surgeons are required to remove all the material they cut from your bushes and trees. We’ve heard of cowboy tree surgeons throwing branches and cuttings over fences into fields or simply into woodland on the way home.

TOP TIP: Make sure you ask your tree surgeon how they are going to clear and dispose of all the materials they cut from your trees and bushes in an ecologically sound way.

Tree surgeon fails #3: Knock, knock, who’s there?

A company in Fulham were called by a distraught homeowner who had become the latest victim of the door-knocking cowboys. She’d answered the door to a team of men who called themselves tree surgeons asking whether she had any work going. She asked them to remove four trees from her back garden, but when they clocked off at 5 pm they’d simply chopped the tops off a couple and left around 4ft of the stump on others.

With branches strewn all over her garden, they asked for most of the money and said that they’d return the following day to finish off, clear up and collect the rest of their money… they never came back. They’d hacked at those poor trees, left a huge mess and done a runner.

It took a team of professional tree surgeons to clear up the mess and properly remove the remains of the trees. Never let a door-knocking tree surgeon loose on your trees. If you think this is an isolated incident, think again, local authorities regularly warn their households about cowboy tree surgeons conning their constituents.

TOP TIP: Never pay for a job until it’s completed. A deposit may be required, but the bulk of the fee for the work should only be handed over once the job has been finished to your satisfaction.

Tree surgeon fails #4: Watchdog reports!

We love the TV show Watchdog, which reports on rogue traders who want to con us and make sure they get their comeuppance. Tree surgeons have featured many times over the years on this show, but one of our favourite fails came in 2010 when they reported on a chap called David Stanley (not to be confused with other tree surgeons with similar names) who’d been terrorising trees across London under numerous different company names.

He’d reportedly made up work that wasn’t needed, severely overcharged, killed trees by over-pruning them, taken money for tree reports that never materialised and, most importantly, persuaded people that their trees could be cut down despite there being tree preservation orders on them – something that comes with a hefty fine attached to it.

Top Tip: The best way to find a tree surgeon you can trust is through recommendation from people who have actually used them. Next, best is to find an ARB Approved Contractor (they’re all listed on the ARB website so don’t just take someone’s word for it, look them up), because those who achieve this status have gone through the industry’s toughest assessments to find them worthy.

To summarize:

Don’t use door-knocking tree surgeons     A reputable firm will not offer tree services this way ­– they won’t need to.  
Do ask to see paperwork     Insurance and qualification documentation and a written quote to avoid any confusion later on.
Don’t pay until the job is done     Some tree surgeons will ask for a deposit, but always hold onto the bulk of the money until the job is complete.  
Check if they are on the ARB website   The Arboricultural Association is the UK’s leading authority on quality tree surgeons.  
We hope you learnt something!

To book a free survey and consultation with one of our ARB Approved arborists for advice on your trees or to book our tree surgeons to prune/maintain or fell your tree(s) and remove the stumps, call us on 0208 292 8992.

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