Edinburgh dad leaves his office job to follow his dream of becoming a tree surgeon

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Graham finds freedom from being out in the great outdoors making a living

An Edinburgh dad who left his job working in an office to become a tree surgeon has spoken about the freedom of being out and about climbing trees on a daily basis and starting his own business. Graham Miller left his job at State Street bank at Crewe Toll in the city after working there for nearly 10 years, and embarked on a new career as a tree surgeon.

Speaking to the Evening News while on a job in South Queensferry taking down trees and trimming hedges and trees along with two sub contractors, Graham explained why he made the leap from working in an office to climbing trees for a living.

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The 40-year-old said: “When they made redundancies you were getting more work put on you. It became more stressful, which was going home with me. And then when I got passed over for a manager’s position, that was the straw the broke the camel’s back.

Edinburgh tree surgeon Graham Miller up a tree in South Queensferry.Edinburgh tree surgeon Graham Miller up a tree in South Queensferry.
Edinburgh tree surgeon Graham Miller up a tree in South Queensferry.

"So I thought ‘I will look for something else’, which was quite scary. I was in my 30s, just married, with a young child. So I thought about what I enjoy, being outside. I used to love climbing trees when I was younger.

"I volunteered for Edinburgh Council just to see if I enjoyed it and I absolutely loved it. I was just helping out, grabbing brash and feeding the chipper. It gave me a chance to see what the job entails. I did that for a couple of months, one day a week, while still working at my other job.”

That made Graham want to do his “ticket” – tree surgeon qualifications – which he funded himself, costing £4,200. “It is quite costly to get started in the industry,” Graham said, “But I love it. It can be really good fun swinging about the trees. It can be a bit scary at times when it’s windy, but all in all I wouldn’t change it. Some of the views are spectacular. It's a long day sometimes and hard graft but it’s so rewarding. The job satisfaction is great, you feel pride in your work.”

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Graham then worked for an Edinburgh tree company for a year and a half, before deciding to go alone and start his own business, GM Tree Services. He said: "When I was working for them I was doing my own jobs in the evenings and at weekends and that’s when I thought if I don’t do it now I never will, as I wasn’t getting any younger and I had come into this line of work quite late.

Graham and one of the sub contractors move the statue out of the way of the tree.Graham and one of the sub contractors move the statue out of the way of the tree.
Graham and one of the sub contractors move the statue out of the way of the tree.

"It’s been the best decision I have ever made, my work/life balance is so much better, it’s much easier to organise things, keep the wife happy. It allows me to be flexible, but it also has it’s stresses as well. I have went my first full year this year with the business and so far so good. I hope it continues to grow and I can add some permanent employees. And who knows, one day I could pass it on to my children, or sell it for my retirement.”

Not an occupation that perhaps young people might consider, Graham believes there is still a need in the modern world for tree surgeons, even though he started his business during the Covid pandemic. He said: "It’s definitely still needed. There is a lot more than domestic trees, there is also work for the council, trees and hedges that need cut back, all the way to forestry work, so tree surgeons are needed.

"For the first three weeks of Covid I wasn’t entirely clear on the rules so I didn’t work, but once it was clear that I could work I went back, and surprisingly with people being locked at home there was a high demand for tree surgeons. As people were spending more time in their gardens, noticing work that needed done.

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"There are hundreds of tree surgeons in just Edinburgh and the Lothians, from people like myself all the way up to big companies. There are a couple of big ones in Edinburgh and a couple more big ones in Glasgow. The bigger jobs out there are for clearing sites, say for a new shopping complex for example.”