What is the difference between an arborist and a tree lopper?

What is an Arborist?

Tree arborists not tree loppers
Treetec arborists are specially trained to carefully access tree canopies and manage trees for tree health and care.

An arborist is engaged in the field of Arboriculture which is primarily concerned with the selection, planting, and care of trees and woody plants (Harris, Clark & Matheny 2004). In the past an arborist was more closely associated with establishing and caring for trees however the amenity tree industry, particularly in Australia, is now primarily involved with caring for trees in the urban environment and the majority of the work performed by commercial arborists is tree care, pruning and tree removal.

“The definition for ‘arborist’ has become problematic because many operators who specialise in removing trees or tree lopping are using the label ‘Arborist’, often without the underlying knowledge of tree biology.”

Arboriculture is a broad field with a range of specializations.
What services does an arborist provide?

Consulting Arborist
Arborist services such as diagnosis, tree management plans, assessments and the various reports relating to such. Council requirements, in Melbourne particularly, regarding tree management have created the need for an arborist assessment and report for many planning applications. Also the duty of care requirements for owners or managers of tree populations at schools, parks and public areas has meant that ongoing hazard tree assessments are required. These inspections will provide the managers of the trees with a list of hazardous trees, degree of risk and management options for reducing that risk.

Utility Arborist
The primary focus of a utility arborist is reducing or eliminating contact between vegetation and power lines. Trees are responsible for most power outages and can trigger fires with catastrophic consequences. Although a utility arborist should have an understanding of tree biology and care, the focus will always be on maintaining clearances from infrastructure with tree health and form as a secondary concern.

Commercial Arborist
Tree care, pruning and tree removal is the largest sector within arboriculture, Commercial arborists undertake the hands on work relating to selecting, planting, transplanting, caring for and removing trees and tree stumps. Many small operators within this field (pruning and tree removal) market themselves as Tree Loppers.

Climbing Arborist – specialist field. Because of the unique set of skills related to canopy access / tree access there are a number of related career opportunities available to a qualified arborist such as seed collection, ecology and habitat work and canopy access for hardware installations such as lights or fauna monitoring / wildlife bridges.

What is a ‘Tree lopper’ / ‘Lopping’?

To Lop is to ‘cut off’, within arboriculture it is considered a disparaging term and is used to describe the cutting of a tree with little or no regard for the plants natural defence systems. Therefore, a Tree Lopper is often someone without the underlying training and knowledge required to properly care for trees. Of course, if it is tree removal work, then this may not matter except where nearby trees might be impacted. When pruning a tree the choice is between lopping and natural target pruning.

Target pruning aims to:

  • minimise the adverse impact on the tree by maximising compartmentalisation of decay near the wound
    • Encourage callus wood growth for structure
    • Minimising unwanted epicormic shoots


Topping is the lopping of the central leader, it usually results in significant decay in the main trunk with vigorous new shoots competing for apical dominance, the new shoots quickly become tall and will be poorly attached leading to a hazardous situation.
Most good arborists will only lop or top a tree in exceptional circumstances and often there are alternative tree management options the arborist can suggest.

Treetec are specialist arborists based in Melbourne with tree canopy expertise. Contact us to provide tree services including:

  • arboricultural reports
  • tree hazard assessments / surveys
  • inspections for planning applications and related botanical services
  • tree disease management i.e. Elm Leaf Beetle injection treatment
  • specialist tree pruning
  • care of significant or heritage listed trees
  • habitat improvement for wildlife including introduced cavities, artificial hollows and nest box installations