The eco-arborist

Pod patches, mini safe havens, tiny forests, biodiversity banks, protected areas, riparian corridors and catchments – these are the terms the new ecoarborist may apply to a site when they assess the canopy and understorey.


An engaged AQF Level 3 eco-arborist will have the duty of relocating fauna and flora when possible, and an engaged AQF Level 5 eco-arborist is a solution to the fast pace of the development process, which is one of the major threats facing ecosystems in Australia. The role of the AQF Level 5 eco-arborist would be to integrate ecology and tree protection into the development process.

A new type of arborist can be a defence for Australia’s depleting ecosystems and bridge the role between bushfire consultants and ecologists.

Higher wind forces are increasing storm-damaged vegetation dislodging from supportive roots and fractured branches.

From the root word, the definition ‘eco’ (oikos) means habitation or dwelling place, and ‘ology’ the study of.

How does this definition apply to the new eco-arborist role in the arboriculture industry?

The habitation or built dwelling place must consider a balance between the new development and the existing environment. In this industry, townplanners, engineers, ecologists and bushfire consultants put the environment second to development. In applying the credits of offsets to a dwelling place, better outcomes with land dedications to community allotments will be achieved. Going forward, the AQF Level 5 eco-arborist can determine where a dwelling should be situated that will have the least impact on the environment. Therefore, the environment can be prioritised over other dwelling-placement considerations, such as views, or accessibility.

Green culture is the summation of the living elements in our ecosystems, and the environment needed to sustain it. Compromise will be needed for industries working in either side of the green-culture balance. This compromise ensures wins for the green culture and the development. Will this slow development time schedules? Most likely. Will it cost more in the interim phase of development? Probably. Will it benefit the environment in the near future? Definitely.

Further, the benefits of the balance will be ongoing for the green culture itself. Other stakeholders and parties in the community would also benefit from a shift in legislation that protects the green-culture balance, such as indigenous persons, threatened species and landowners devastated by environmental impacts. AS 4970-2009 Tree Protection On Development Sites is underpinning legislation that requires updating to consider the green-culture balance.

Figure 1.

What is the role of the arborist? What are some signs that we need the new multi-disciplinary expert.

According to the training package the statement roles out:


Arborists work in private and government positions to foster the economic, ecological, environmental, health and social benefits of trees and professional tree care. Arborists provide for the care and management of trees in conservation and tree-preservation roles, tree climbing, tree maintenance, and the diverse operations of vegetation management, power-line clearance, professional tree management and urban forestry. Consulting arborists have professional consulting, expert witness, research and academic roles in diagnostic testing and tree assessment.

There is the inherent role of care and conservation which leads to the eco-arborist.

What is the role of an eco-arborist?

An eco-arborist (AQF Level 3 or AQF Level 5) considers the balance between the existing natural ecosystems on site and other constraints that face the development industry. An AQF Level 3 arborist does have an aspect of this mindset now in the course called The Eco-arborist Leading Hand, who can climb and has an elevated work platform (EWP) ticket.

Additionally, an AQF Level 5 ecoarborist should have the ability to give advice that reflects eco-arboreal values. In fact, a degree course which assists in promoting this relationship could be offered with sponsorship from industry and government.

The role of an eco-arborist is to support the health, maintenance, and preservation of trees, and to identify and manage risks associated with trees. They are to do this with an ecological mindset, utilising legislative tools and modern technology.

Why do we need more eco-arborists?

Trees are keystone species. They are grazing grounds, browsing bases and homes for fauna. They are carbon sequesters, atmosphere regulators and resources for humans (medicines, infrastructure, food and so forth). Larger trees maintain their condition better with less pruning and companion planting, which assists ecological symbiotic and dependent relationships. Tree species which share symbiotic relationships gravitate to similar soilprofile areas.

Examples of this adaptive behaviour are presented from the following: E.mollucanna (Greybox)and E. tereticornis (Forest redgum) in the Cumberland plain community; and E.paniculata (Ironbarks) and Syncarpia glomulifera (Turpentines) in the STIFF community.

These communities have found a way to co-exist within the similar soil types. It’s important if these are impacted or affected in any development that they remain viable, and if removed are replenished with the same or similar species. It’s a problem to consider larger trees are diminishing in urban areas, and this needs constant vigilance by the ecoarborist to retain and maintain these types of trees and patches where they can regenerate.


Town planners have invested in green culture balances with riparian corridors at the back and front of properties, riparian areas along creeks or around dams (not on the wall itself), and ‘biodiversity pods’ where they can have inter-canopy species habituating and mutual symbiotic relationships in the understorey and canopy trees.

Prominent trees will also be required to be utilised for amenity along purposebuilt roadways and paths as the need for more localised modes of transport increase – lesser road vehicles like motorised scooters, electric bikes, skateboards, walking and other modes of transport.

Grants for increasing community fitness and transport are currently available, indicating the movement to lesser use of private motor vehicles. The rising costs of fuel are a heavy deterrent to these traditional types of transport.

Town planners have invested in green culture balances with riparian corridors along creeks or around dams.

In the design and manufacturing of these spaces which impinge on local patches of endemic vegetation currently retained for remnant vegetation or biodiversity, more inductions of workers unfamiliar with entering biodiversity areas or regenerative pod-cell areas are required to reduce biosecurity issues and the transfer of pathogens and toxic chemicals utilised in the building industry to plants and environment. Things like footbaths, cleaning equipment with disinfectant and reduced soil on machines, and utilising only pest and certified diseasefree mulch as per the Raw Mulch Order, reducing access and involving eco arborists with a biodiversity background. Very simply, we need eco-arborists to promote the preservation of larger sentinel trees and prominent trees, to reduce the number of large sentinel, significant and prominent tree removals, and to develop a better balance between infrastructure and the natural environment.


Currently the new qualification for the AQF level 3 Eco-arborist who can select the following units from the Training Arb packages:

(From Arb training package. The four units are electives, and there are eight core units to be achieved from the skill set).

Expert assessment

There are two ends to the spectrum of mass tree removal scale that are noticeable in the arboriculture industry.

On one end of the spectrum, we have urban development in our cities to meet the demand for housing. More apartment complexes are being built, new houses are as tightly packed as a can of sardines, and there is an increasing number of attached dual-occupancy dwellings. The bigger the footprint of these developments and the more crammed together dwellings become, the more trees get removed and the less room there is to replace sizeable trees of ecological importance. This is where the ‘urban heat island effect’ comes into play – more heat is being trapped in our cities because there are more urban surfaces (roads and buildings) than green spaces, too many trees are being removed and squeezed out of this space, and there is not enough vegetation to provide shade and release moisture back into the atmosphere.

In the UK the government pays farmers a stipend to retain their trees and now to rewild3 their lands – their green spaces are valued. Innovations have been attributed to young trees on roof spaces, walls and balconies, increasing density of canopy cover with tiny forests. Trees can survive and flourish in a built environment, but only if a tree’s system is not impaired by the development that it is supposed to enhance (Sullivan.B.2015v32022), people like to live with trees around them.

From nature we can get a perspective of possibilities with design, engineering and climate adaption.

A picture’s worth a thousand words and this is relevant when presenting this concept…please see Plate 1 above.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are people developing out in the bush where Australia’s biodiversity values and endangered ecological communities (EEC) are found. Developments in the bush generally require large clearings for the construction of onsite wastewater systems, as well as the removal of trees and understorey vegetation to reduce the risk of bushfire. AQF Level 5 arborists providing will often face the struggle of preserving EEC trees with biodiversity value while choosing which trees face removal to meet the requirements of a bushfire Asset Protection Zone (APZ).

The other issue of meeting APZ requirements is understorey vegetation and shrubs, generally overlooked by inexperienced arborists, are the first to go when satisfying the requirements of a bushfire APZ. This vegetation is just as crucial for a healthy and functioning ecosystem as canopy vegetation. It contains about 90 per cent of plant species diversity in Australian ecosystems2 and it provides food, nesting materials, shelter and soil stability. Raising the flag on arboricultural experts to give appropriate commentary and advice is essential to balancing the development paradigm.

Natural balance of ecosystems needs to be taken into account so indigenous species aren’t overrun by feral intruders.
What’s needed

These sorts of developments are the ones that require many report amendments and reviews with council, and many prospective homeowners can get caught out by the costs of these amendments and other requirements, such as Biodiversity Development Assessment Reports (BDAR), or by not completing pre-da assessments to assist in the development process.

Both our experienced and upcoming arborists in training need an eco-mindset.
• We need crossover academics from biodiversity conservation and town planners (with sympathetic ecological values) determining legislation and raising issues in the political communities;
• We need arborists with backgrounds in ecology to preserve our biodiversity values and EECs (endangered ecological communities) and earth sciences;
• We need eco-arborists in council and government positions to regulate and restrict the land being made available for housing within protected areas of biodiversity and logging, especially in koala management areas (KMA);
• We need eco-arborists who can resist the use of toxic chemicals into the environment, and flag biosecurity issues and transfer of non-certified green waste;
• We need AQF Level 3 arborists who know how to prune for wind exposure and habitat. This may include the pruning of spaces or holes for habitat egress and into the canopy, branch or stem, build and install nesting boxes with noted access and egress requirements of the specific habitat, have climate-specific knowledge and understand the relationship between interspecies. They need an understanding of water uptake in the current climatic times, the role of fungi associations and how these abiotic and biotic conditions can benefit development rather than being detrimental;
• We need local experience within the region or responses from experts that would prepare the developments from a local biodiversity perspective. This can be as easy as referring to local arboricultural experts or ecologists.

The role of the AQF Level 5 eco-arborist
would be to integrate ecology and tree
protection into the development process.

Local TCAA arborists are good at instructional work and are practical people6. An analogy is that they would be similar to working in a closed system like submarines. Unfortunately, if one of the team makes a mistake, the changes could be catastrophic, unless experience with foresight and best industry practice to overcome obstacles, dangers and reduce the risks is brought to the fore. TCAA have regular meetings to develop policy and training to cater for the new changes. Weather anomalies and microbursts are placing un-treed or recently cleared areas at risk of landslip or erosion, either of which is costly to remediate.

Under scrubbing has been mass performed under NSW state legislation due to the requirements for bushfire management. This legislation is named the 10/50 Vegetation Clearing Code and it allows for tree removal within 10 metres of a dwelling and under scrubbing within 50 metres. In general terms, clearing the understory leads to a reduction of the regenerative capacity of any site, and this may have a flowon effect to the fertility of the soil. For example, the loss of acacia species – wattle – has led to a reduction in plantavailable nitrogen, increased soil compaction, and reduced soil porosity. Understorey species also increase the layer of decomposing leaf litter which is important for nutrient cycling. Retained trees can therefore be impacted by the removal of the understory. There is also the issue of protecting critically endangered understory species which are not considered by are removed. In Hornsby Shire, the Melaleuca quinquenervia (Broad-Leaved Paperbark) is under-represented. In the Hawkesbury City Council area, Eucalyptus tereticornis (Forest Red Gum) trees are water stressed, and in the west the attacks of insects and psyllids have almost destroyed large patches of the Eucalyptus mollucana (Grey Box) over the past 10 years.

Clearing is a key threatening process according to the Threatened Species website. Also, clearing compacts the soil levels from machines driving through the TPZ of tree communities. This in turn reduces pore space for air and diffusion of gases and water percolation from the surface (zero A0) grade. There is an area within developments where we should propose a ‘pod patch’ – an area where species regeneration can occur and also allow ‘mini safe havens’ where threatened habitat or any habitat can be protected. The dual purpose of this area is essential for continuation of the existing species regeneration.

The Albanese government just released a report on the environmental law which was scathing of the archaic biodiversity laws. From The Conversation: ‘Evidence shows offsets have so far been largely ineffective, in part because existing policy is not properly implemented and rules not enforced. They may even facilitate more biodiversity loss by removing ethical roadblocks to destroying ecosystems and habitat for threatened species.’

On the topic of clearing, Professor Greg Moore comments on how the riparian ecology along our roadsides is thinning and patching, possibly from collisions or weed management .

What is the new role in the industry which can reflect the values and ideas of the above we are proposing?

To test or further survey the understorey vegetation for retention values against; fertility, reproductivity, habitat, protection of species (both flora and fauna) and associations that improve soil health and canopy cooling. Breaks in canopy corridors reduce the migration of inter-canopy species, as well as the number of food-source trees which are also found in the understorey.

New policies in arboriculture consider changes in weather patterns, which will assist the new eco-arborist. The increase in moisture volumes (BOM) has a direct relationship with colonising fungal fruiting bodies and weaker limbs from being heavy from moisture. Higher wind forces are increasing storm-damaged vegetation dislodging from supportive roots and fractured branches. The effects of taking a tree out on other local vegetation is also required as numerous site reports on trees where a large tree was taken out nearby as dislodged a retained tree because of the additional forces on the exposed tree. This question must be asked, ‘If we take out the tree here, what is the effect on the surrounding vegetation’.

A new panel of experienced ecoarborists would be best to determine tree loss and effects intermediate to the Land and Environment court that is free from council constraints, but has the backing of the federal and state governments, and acts under the revised biodiversity act – a level of scrutiny that may be best, rather than the hopscotch of several different views on tree management from local councils.

A new expert multidisciplinary role

With the new eco-arborist role poised to be a key to developing the Green Culture Balance, again we face the shortage of trained and skilled arborists. Hopefully the new panels of discussion on the role our industry can assist will assist our skills shortage and reduce the bizarre offset that previous legislation has promoted. In addressing the new rules let’s get the flag raised on this. Land useage from the map of Australia (2016) notes the decline in land used for farming – please see Figure three.

Another unfortunate rise of habitat roosting in homes as the loss of canopy progresses.

Microbats found in walls, between weatherboards, possums in roofs, and large gatherings of birds seeking shelter and food. An eco-arborist needs to account for these changes in the field and insist on adequate controls. There needs to be a system of more regular inspections on fit-for-purpose vegetation within infrastructure hubs.

Noting that the increase in fungus due to moisture variants, changing biota and trees evolving or adapting to meet these new rules would be a worthy study.

The role of the AQF Level 5 eco-arborist would be to integrate ecology and tree protection into the development process.


– AS4970 2009 Tree protection On Development Sites. 

– King. M & McArdle J.(2022) Pre-DA-Assessments, Arbor Age, Australia. 

– McArdle D&J (2022) TCAA TMG Tree Management Guidelines. Best Industry Practices Australia. 


– McArdle.J (2022) Practical People TCAA, December-Jan Arbor Age Australia 




– AHC-Training Packages Volume 8 Dept Training.Gov.Au 2022 



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