Meet Anna Bartlett
December 14, 2023

Women in arb : Meet Anna Bartlett

 

Anna Bartlett cutting felled tree stump

 

Making a decision to change your career can be a daunting experience, but towards the end of 2022 London-based Anna Bartlett decided to take a leap of faith to start a new career as an arborist, applying for a place on Hi-Line’s fast-track trainee arborist programme. Having gone through the recruitment process, which involved taking part in a practical assessment day in Devon, Anna was offered a place and started with the company in January 2023.

 

WHAT WERE YOU DOING BEFORE JOINING HI-LINE?

I was a hotel health club manager and personal trainer. I had been in the same health club for 11 years, working my way up to management level. It was a very hands-on job, dealing with the swimming pool and giving exercise classes, etc, and I feel it has left me with some really useful skills that will be helpful in building a strong team when working with trees.

 

ARBORICULTURE IS QUITE DIFFERENT TO THE INDUSTRY YOU’VE BEEN IN. WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO IT?

I was giving a personal training session to one of my clients in the gym, during which he told me he had spent his weekend with a tree surgeon who had to remove a large oak tree from his garden and how they must have moved tonnes of timber. This instantly had me wondering what it must be like to do tree work. I went home and started researching what it entailed to do work like this. Absolutely all aspects I came across really appealed to me. The hard work, being outside and seeing what you have achieved in a day all seemed really exciting. It seemed I had the right kind of personality traits to be able to do the job and I felt like a dog with a bone. I couldn’t pass up pursuing this as my next career. It also quickly became clear how huge the tree industry is and there are careers in many different directions.

 

 

THE INITIAL TRAINING INVOLVED SPENDING A MONTH AWAY FROM HOME. HOW DID IT GO?

Anna putting wedge cut into tree in preparation for felling

It was a big commitment but it was also the best possible scenario for me to get the qualifications needed in a really short amount of time. And being trained by the company which employs me has huge advantages. Already, my new employer is aware I still need some coaching and support to get the experience I need to become a really skilled tree surgeon. All other options to become qualified – such as an apprenticeship or full-time college course – probably suit many people, but for me, those options sounded like a slow process whereas I have the enthusiasm to get started as soon as possible.

In week one we covered chainsaw maintenance and cross cutting. It was a good mix of teaching styles, both hands-on and practical. It made me realise quite how much understanding of the tools you really need. Dismantling a chainsaw fully shows that you need to know exactly what you are handling.

In week two we did our small felling course. It was so cool to be out in the woods and have a purpose to the cuts. It was physically hard work, which I loved. 

In week three we moved on to tree climbing and aerial rescue. This offered a break from the chainsaw and the chance to learn a completely new set of skills. The four of us on the course were all up in the same tree. It was really bonding to see each other climbing together. I found this week the hardest with so many new things to learn – the names of the equipment, the knots, looking for anchor points, etc. It’s a lot, and then just when you feel you need to keep practising the climbing, we started to learn how to rescue each other. It’s an essential part of the job, but it was a lot all at once. We also learned how to climb with spikes, and again how to rescue with spikes, all in the same week. My weekend was taken up by going over and over my set-up in my head and a lot of talking to myself to get me as prepared as I could be for the assessment. Luckily, it all clicked into place and I passed. But what I would have given for another day of training beforehand!

In week four we used our chainsaw with rope and harness. If I’d failed the previous course, then I wouldn’t have been able to take this one, so there was a bit of pressure – and I can see why. You need to be able to do decent branch walks and get in weird and wonderful positions before you cut any of the branches on trees. I actually enjoyed this course the most and for the first time in my life I enjoyed the assessment. Taking skills to the next level and actually mimicking some of the real-life jobs that we will be doing was really exciting.

In our final week down in Devon with Hi-Line Training we covered MEWPs, emergency first-aid+F and a work experience day. This week felt like a huge pressure release from all previous weeks as these were single-day training sessions with assessments included on the day. By now we had a better understanding of our job so we could take in the training knowing we would be using these skills immediately. I personally was glad to do the emergency first-aid at the end of the course instead of the start or I would have had accidents constantly running through my mind. I also absorbed more information about how accidents can happen and that we need to know what to do.

 

CAN YOU SUMMARISE YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR MONTH OF TRAINING?

Anna Bartlett Tree Climbing

It was exactly what I expected due to the interview process being very thorough with the information given. So I had a decent understanding of how the training would be.

There were some highs and lows, of course. It’s a lot of learning and a lot for both our bodies and minds to adjust to, so it wasn’t going to be easy. But I wouldn’t have wanted it to be. This is a serious job and I wanted a challenge and to become skilled in something difficult.

Every week, my interest grew more in the industry, so I am happy I made this career change.

I was really impressed with how well organised the whole month was as I can imagine how much work is involved to make sure an intensive training course runs smoothly.

I also felt lucky that the other three people I trained with are all great people, so we have become really close which is a huge bonus and it will help us work as a team in the real world.

Physically, I found the first two weeks challenging as I had COVID in December 2022, and what with the Christmas break in between, my fitness and health was not quite at 100 per cent. But by the time of the climbing course I felt up to scratch. The climbing and aerial rescue was the biggest challenge for me as I felt that it should be at least a day longer. But it does show what is possible with determination and commitment in this timeframe.

Being away from home for a month actually gave me the focus and rest I needed each day.

 

YOU’VE BEEN OUT WORKING IN A TEAM FOR A MONTH NOW. HOW HAS THAT BEEN?

It’s gone really well. Everyone introduced themselves to us on our first day and have been really friendly. I’ve been with a different combination of people almost every day so that’s been good to get to know everyone. As there is so much work to do with the new contracts we have in London, I felt everyone was happy to have the four of us starting. It has been great getting to understand how a typical day looks.  I want to be a really good groundsperson so that I become valuable to the other climbers and learn from the ground up, as it were. I want to climb regularly as well though, so I keep the learning process going. So far I have done a combination of both which is great.  

WHAT KIND OF WORK HAVE YOU BEEN DOING?

In my first two days I was able to climb immediately to help inspect some trees for signs of Massaria disease. I was always with one of the experienced climbers but I was really happy to be able to climb so soon to get some practice in and not leave it too long before getting up a tree. One of the days I was groundie for one of the guys who had to pollard some London planes in a built-up residential area. I was able to see what the process for that was and how they direct the branches to avoid phone lines and parked cars. 

Another day was spent cutting up a fallen willow tree so it was heavily chainsaw-based work.

So a real mix of work and lots to take in and see how some of the skills I’ve learned are really used.

 

HOW HAVE YOU FELT AS ONE OF ONLY TWO WOMEN IN THE LONDON HI-LINE TEAMS AND THE ONLY FEMALE CLIMBER?

Anna Bartlett on her climbing course

As much as I try to see the world in a positive light and want everyone to get along, I’m very aware this is a male-dominated industry and of course had it in the back of my mind that I might come across some sexism. But honestly, I have not had anyone make me feel uncomfortable or project any bad feelings towards me. This has been quite a big weight off my shoulders and probably what I’m most happy about. Because even though I was ready to accept (and ignore – or worse, have to challenge) any negativity in order to do this job and develop myself, it’s so far one whole side of things I can forget about and focus entirely on the new venture. 

I’ve had good feedback on my attitude and the guys will appreciate anyone putting in the hard work, no matter who you are. 

 

ANY ADVICE FOR OTHER WOMEN THINKING OF ARBORICULTURE AS A CAREER?

Absolutely go for it 100 per cent. I do feel lucky to have found a company which is forward thinking and progressive, but now that I’m in the real working world, I believe many people’s views are quite open-minded. Just because women are in the minority in the industry (at the moment) it should not even be part of your thought process or hold you back. If you do come across any sexism on the way, just move on to the next company and forget about them because they aren’t the right fit. They really are the ones missing out.

 

HAVE YOU ANY LONG-TERM GOALS FOR YOUR CAREER?

I definitely want to climb for as long as I can. I’m not as young as most people who join as a climber but I never put restrictions on what anyone, especially myself, is capable of.

Being a trainer, I know so many people who achieve such great things later in life and they have been my inspiration. I think as long as I continue to look after myself and make my physical health a priority then I can do this for a good few years. After that, I am really interested in learning more of the biology of trees and maybe getting into planning and planting projects. There are so many jobs involving trees I don’t even know about yet. But I’m not even looking that far ahead right now as currently I just want to be the best tree surgeon I possibly can.

 


 


 


 

This article was originally written for essential arb magazine as a feature for their women in arb series. The original article can be viewed by following this link to the essential arb website (link opens a new tab)