Lee Jopling left a career in gamekeeping to set up his own business as a tree surgeon in May of last year. Since then, his feet have hardly touched the ground, as he explains to Wendy Short

FUNGAL infections, after-effects of high winds and overgrown Leylandii are part of everyday life for Lee Jopling.

He qualified as an arborist and worked on managing trees around power lines. He spent seven years as a gamekeeper before deciding to set up his own business, Joplings Tree Services in May 2018.

Last autum, he was kept busy dealing with a number of emergency call-outs for urgent tree removal after strong winds felled a number of older and weaker trees and a lot of his work is dealing with trees hit by fungal infection.

“There are numerous types of fungus which can infect trees,” says Lee, who studied arboriculture at Houghall College, near Durham. “Some are harmless, but others can cause serious structural defects. Unfortunately, there is no reliable way of treating a tree which has been infected because the fungus will eventually eat away at the base structure. The only option for an infected tree is to prolong its life by performing a reduction. This involves removing 20-30 per cent from the length of every branch, to reduce its weight and take some of the pressure off the roots and general structure.”

Lee’s work tends to follow the seasons and covers everything from amenity planting to hedge management, tree and branch removal and pruning. Early spring is his quiet period, because trees and hedges should not be disturbed while birds are nesting. The rise in the popularity of log-burning stoves means that he seldom gets the chance to take wood away from site, but he will use his chainsaw to saw logs so they are ready for splitting. He also chips wood and sells it for various uses, including livestock, gardens or horse arenas.

“I get a lot of call-outs to domestic hedges which have grown too large,” he says. “Leylandii were fashionable a few decades ago, but many people planted them without realising that they can grow to great heights. I would always recommend using native species for hedge planting; a mixture of beech and holly is ideal, but this takes about 15 years to produce a full green screen. ”

Underground roots can also cause issues and in general terms, a tree’s roots will spread out to an area some 10-20 per cent wider than its crown. The very dry summer last year was unusual, and trees close to buildings removed large volumes of water from the ground, leading to shrinkage and in some cases, subsidence. Lee calls in self-employed help to assist with rope operations when he is faced with the removal in an awkward situation.

“I try to confine my work to a reasonable distance from home, but as a relatively new starter, I am prepared to drive further afield for a new client. I am looking into becoming qualified to carry out bat surveys as a way of adding another string to my bow.”

Lee, who lives with his partner in Cotherstone, is very happy with the progress that his business has achieved to date.

“I would like to eventually run a team of three and it would be also be nice to have a yard, to give me more space to store and work on my equipment. But it is early days and it takes time to build up clients for a new business. In the mean time, I love being my own boss and not knowing from one day to the next where I will be and what I might be doing.”

Examples of Lee’s work can be seen on his Facebook page @joplingstreeservices