Beaver Trees Services

When arborist Bryce Robb moved to Whanganui from Christchurch to live with his partner, Mary Cameron, he was all geared up for retirement.

"I was just going to chill out. I'd bought a digger and I was just going chill out and just relax," the 47-year-old Cantabrian said.

Then he let slip at a bar in Upokongaro that he was an arborist and someone with a tree problem overheard. Next minute he was back up in the tree.

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"I did some really big trees up the Paraparas and Mary wasn't enjoying her job at the time so I said why don't we start a tree business here? That was only eight months ago."

It's only been up from there for Bryce and Mary and their business, Beaver Tree Services.

They've started a business in Wellington as well and Robb has continued managing the Christchurch office.

At the end of last year Beaver Trees won a small business award at the Whanganui Chamber of Commerce Regional Business Awards.

Robb started on his path to become an arborist when he was 20 and saw an ad in the paper for a groundsman.

"I was keen, I was an eager beaver. I was keen as to get up trees ... within six months I was doing big takedowns."

He first picked up the practical stuff - the climbing and the physical work. Then over time he learned more about tree identification and pests and diseases.

"I love the adrenaline," he said. "I love the buzz when you drop out a big head out of the top of a tree, when you lower a large branch and it comes down nicely."

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According to Robb, an arborist is "an urban forestry guy".

"Instead of cutting a tree down in a forest, we dismantle trees because they're in an awkward position - if we're removing them.

'We're used to cutting down large trees in confined spaces. But on the other side of that we do a lot of ornamental pruning too.

"We're all about beautifying trees and trying to get more light into people's properties."

Bryce Robb works his way up a macrocarpa on Great North Rd.
Bryce Robb works his way up a macrocarpa on Great North Rd.

Sometimes the job meant acting as peacemaker between neighbours at war.

"Trees generally cause issues between neighbours if they're on a boundary. Most of the time you can amicably sort things out between neighbours with a bit of judicious pruning or that kind of thing."

He estimated 50 per cent of the work he did was removing trees that had grown too large and become dangerous.

There are also clean-up jobs when trees are damaged - like what happened to Christina Ivar's large old plum tree, which split in two during high winds on Monday .

Robb had been working on a large gum tree on Great North Rd when he spoke to the Whanganui Chronicle.

"Like the trees we're doing out here - they've become dangerous and they've been dropping limbs. Or they've just gotten too big for the situation, they're blocking too much light and causing issues.

"Where I can, I try to save a tree so if people are adamant they want it taken out I try give them other options."

Those options include lifting the tree crown, thinning, or end-weighting, where the canopy is pulled off a roof to reduce the volume of leaves that get on the roof and in the gutter.

The Beaver Tree guys mulch pieces of a tree they felled. Photo / Stuart Munro.
The Beaver Tree guys mulch pieces of a tree they felled. Photo / Stuart Munro.

Robb said he always preferred to talk a client through what they were doing with the tree so they would better understand it.

"We consult with the clients. If it was Mrs Smith - we'd get Mrs Smith out and say to her hey what do you think about that? Now that we've done that I think we should do that. When you do one tree it sort of changes the [environment]."

"It doesn't bother me if people want to do their own trees," Robb said. "They don't want to spend money on arborists - that's fine. I want to focus on people that love trees. My ideal client is someone that gets me in and says 'Bryce - what would you do if it was your trees?'. I just want you to do it as if it was your garden, your trees."

Being an arborist was often about managing dangerous situations and you couldn't be afraid of heights, Robb said.

"You've got to have your wits about you. An old arborist guy who taught me years ago, he said 'Bryce all you have to do is focus on the couple of square metres around your area. Double check you're tied in properly and start on small stuff and work your way up to the big stuff.

"If you fall from 50 feet you might as well fall from 100 feet. Don't cut your rope and don't cut the branch you're standing on."

Coming from Christchurch, the arborist said he noticed trees here in Whanganui were more likely to be affected by diseases and pests.

"It's just so much warmer it's more inviting for pests and diseases to get into weak trees.

"I'm noticing a lot of borer, white moth and what have you. That's why it's important to do it arboriculturally - not just to hack a limb and leave a coat hanger and let the disease into it."

Rivercity Tree Services

Joe Marshall has been working as an arborist for 18 years but he's been working with trees his whole life.

"I always had an interest in trees," says the owner and operator of Rivercity Trees. "My father had a nashi pear orchard, which we pruned … we had to look after those trees. It started way back then - pruning the nashi trees and maintaining and spraying.

"Me and all my brothers we grew up always working. We were shearing, fencing … mowing underneath the trees. Right down to the shelter belt - you couldn't let them get too high. We pretty much did it all from the ground. The shelter belts were pretty easy to maintain - just hard work because they were real long shelter belts. It wasn't done with hedge trimmers, it was done with chainsaws and there was no chaps back then."

Marshall started working for another arborist company in Whanganui as an apprentice when he was 18 before going out on his own.

"I'm not being big headed or anything but I reckon I excelled through tree climbing pretty quick. I just liked climbing and chipping … I got a real good knowledge of how jobs are meant to go. It just all fell into place. I thought ... 'I reckon I could do this for myself'."

The tools of the arborist's trade.
The tools of the arborist's trade.

His father passed away a year before he started training as an arborist. He inherited his dad's farm and got his stock numbers up, which he then sold off. Marshall then bought a truck and chipper. From that he's built a company with two chippers, four utes, two little tipper trucks and an eight tonne digger.

Now Marshall's company boasts two arborists and himself as well as two apprentices learning the trade.

He spends a lot of his time doing paperwork now and a lot less of it up a tree, but he still enjoys the work when he gets the chance.

"I like big tree removals and … deadwooding. Just making a tree that looks sort of ugly, making it look nice.

"It's amazing how much [removing deadwood] transforms a tree, makes it look a whole lot better.

"A lot of arborists don't like trimming hedges because hedges are quite hard work. Some people like seeing the final … what it looks like at the end. All the straight lines and how nice and tidy you can make them look."

Like Robb, Marshall tries to talk clients out of removing trees.

"I have talked a few people out of removing trees because they don't realise the potential of their beauty.

"Then we get a chance to tidy it up and their like 'oh that looks really good'."

In his time as an arborist Marshall has noticed a change in the weather and how trees are affected.

"People pretty much want to know if it's going to fall over tomorrow sort of thing. I've noticed a change in the weather. Weather patterns are a lot worse now compared to when I first started.

"We have more frequent winds and storms than before."

Marshall has a deep love for native trees.

"We do a lot of work for DOC [Department of Conservation] and seeing those big matai trees up the river. And the big tawa trees, the rimu trees, they're pretty neat.

"You walk through the trees and you look up and they're like self-deadwooding themselves. You can walk into an urban tree and you look up and you see big deadwood and then in a native out in the bush, they're just clean - they're really nice."