Women in trees – meet arborist Kirsty Smith

Thirty-two-year-old Kirsty Smith joined Glendale in August 2016.  Originally from the Scottish Borders, she now lives in the borough of Tyne and Wear in the north east of England and works as an arborist with the green space management specialist.

Kirsty studied an NVQ Level 3 in Arboriculture and Forestry and now spends the majority of her days climbing or working on the ground as part of a team taking care of trees on behalf of South Tyneside Council.

What attracted you to tree climbing?

I’ve always liked trees and I loved climbing them when I was a kid!  I enjoy working outdoors too, but never considered arboriculture as a career option.  It struck me as something that was quite specialist and more suited to men, so it never really crossed my mind that I might be able to do it.

It was when my boyfriend went to college a couple of years ago to study arboriculture that I began to get interested.  He taught me to climb and I just ended up getting more and more into it.  I went to The Arb Show in 2015, organised by The Arboricultural Association, and took part in the novice climbing competition, which was a great experience, but very nerve-wracking!  While I was there I ended up chatting with other climbers and people in the industry.  After speaking to some of the women in particular, and hearing about their experiences, I realised it was something I really wanted to do.

What do you enjoy most about your role?

I enjoy the fact that I’m always active and outdoors, and that I get to climb trees for a living!  Every day is different, which keeps it fresh and interesting. I’m also fortunate to be able to work with a good team of people, which is always a bonus.

What are the challenges you’ve faced as you’ve built up your career so far?

I think the biggest challenge for me so far was thinking about getting my first job.  Being female, I was worried about that employer’s attitudes might be towards me, especially considering this can be a very physically demanding industry.  Thankfully, I didn’t come across that and, in fact, being part of a team made up of different people, with different strengths and weaknesses, meant it hasn’t been a problem, we work together to get the job done.

My tutor at college used to work for Glendale and recommended that I apply for a position which came up just as I was finishing college.  He was very encouraging of my climbing ability and so put in a good word for me.  I feel very lucky that I was able to go straight from college and into a job.

It can be quite a demanding job both physically and mentally, so it’s quite important for me to try and keep fit.  I try and do regular yoga and go for the occasional massage which helps to stop me from getting too sore and stiff.  I’m lucky that I also have a dog, so she gets me out and helps me keep fit; it’s all too easy to just go home and sit down!

Who are your role models and why?

I like going to the competitions and seeing other arborists climbing and just being awesome.  I’ve watched Swedish climber Boel Hammarstrand climbing and she’s brilliant. I’ve also seen Josephine Hedger climb; she represents the UK at the European Tree Climbing Championships.  These women are some of the best climbers in the world and I think it shows that women can be absolutely capable climbers.

I’ve also enjoyed seeing my tutor, Simon Hales, competing in the premier climbing competitions at The Arb Show.  It’s great to see people climb who are at the top of their game, using lots of different techniques.  It inspires you to be better and try different things.

Where do you see yourself in the next five years?

I’d like to continue my studies because I enjoy the scientific aspect of trees, learning more about them and why we do what we do as arborists.  I find that quite interesting. I’m currently undertaking an NVQ Level 2 environmental conservation qualification with Glendale.

I think it’s quite important to keep up with the theoretical side of things because, although I like it, I don’t want to be climbing intensely like this forever.  I’d like to think that I could progress and get a better position with time.

What advice would you give women entering the industry?  

I would say just go for it.  Find a course or an apprenticeship and throw yourself into it because you never know what you can do until you go and try it.  I think you need to be quite confident in yourself to do a job like this as it asks a lot of you.  I’m quite a stubborn person, so if someone doubts me it gives me the drive to try even harder. I think it’s a great career choice with lots to learn.


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