Visit any Australian city and you will see trucks proudly advertising themselves as 'tree loppers'. These guys are not arborists but most of them do know how to use a chainsaw and simply lop and top the tree, as and when required by the customer and charge a fee accordingly. Free enterprise at its very best.
The tree lopper sub-market was not openly apparent in New Zealand up until recently.
Historically, New Zealand tree care practitioners were qualified arborists, fiercely proud of their tree management skills and passionate about the health of the tree. Of course the arb market had a the top end and the bottom end but most companies operated on similar principles - largely due to the influence of NZ Arb Association.
The relaxation of 'tree rules' in Auckland earlier this year created a flurry of work for city arborists. Many arb companies found demand for work superseded their ability to complete the task on time so the prices went up, creating what appeared to be a mini gold rush for anyone who could fire-up a chainsaw.
Non-Aucklanders are bound to say this phenomenon is restricted to the super-city but Treetools has customers all over the country and similar stories are emerging - non-qualified 'tree loppers' with a truck and chipper are popping up on every corner.
Over the last few months Treetools has experienced an increased number of people wanting to mix 'n match inappropriate fall arrest equipment with tree work positioning gear. In most instances these newbies are happy for us to inform them the gear they have recently invested in at the 'safety shop' is not quite appropriate for tree work.
But this is not the case across the board - some customers get downright 'ornery when you advise them of the error in their ways, resulting in a Mexican stand-off at the shop front. When it comes to safety equipment Treetools has a policy of only selling to people who can demonstrate some form of ability.
The trending 'tree lopper' market also affects tree care professionals who want to protect the good name of arboriculture in New Zealand. Underpricing, poor quality work and mismanaged trees are one thing but the increased risk of a fatality in the tree industry is also definitely on the cards as greater numbers of newbies enter the market.
Of course, we could be doing the tree loppers a dis-service? Perhaps they are more safety conscious than we are giving them credit for? As far as Treetools is aware Australia does not have any more tree related injuries than we do here in New Zealand relative to population.
Only time will tell - but the writing does appear to be on the wall!