Auckland, NEW ZEALAND.
YEARS IN THE INDUSTRY
8 years in arboriculture - [Fredrik worked as a Michelin Star chef in a previous life].
BEST KNOWN FOR
The Living Tree Company.
Fredrik Hjelm: environmental arborist, coffee connoisseur & former head technician on the New Zealand competitive tree climbing circuit.
Our paths cross fairly regularly anyway but I was lucky enough to grab a tasty lunch with Fredrik & ask him a few questions for this interview.
If I had to describe Fredrik in three words, they would be: Passionate, Charismatic & Engaging. An excellent communicator & leading figure in the New Zealand arboricultural industry, his company serves as testament to the fact that arboriculture is about much more than just cutting trees down.
A late starter in arboriculture, Fredrik had a career as a successful chef in his home of Sweden. He’s rather humble about the Michelin star but as far as I’m aware that’s something of a big deal. Needless to say, the business skills & work ethic required to make it in the culinary world appear to be serving him well in the arboricultural industry.
Wanting a change from being a chef & to be able to work outside, Fredrik took an arboriculture course in New Zealand before working as a climber on a tree maintenance contract in Stockholm.
New Zealand & Australia both have a chequered past with regards to the introduction of highly destructive plant & animal pathogens. Unfortunately many of these problems still persist & native kauri trees in New Zealand are currently facing intense pressure from Kauri dieback disease [Phytophthora agathadicica].
THE LIVING TREE COMPANY
Through direct experience working as arborist on kauri dieback related removal work, Fredrik saw that arborists were working on urban trees whilst ecologists were working in native forests. There was clearly a gap in the market for the right person/company to bridge these two sectors.
His company now holds contracts with a variety of national research organisations, universities, local & national government bodies & pretty much anyone who needs to work with trees for non-destructive purposes. Seed collecting, canopy research, forest canopy health surveys - it’s not just pruning.
It seems like every day a new arborist company pops up with the same list of services, the fact that Fredrik has found a niche & makes the most of it should stand as an inspiration to others.
Besides the fact that I’m forever in awe at some of the incredible photos Fredrik posts, biosecurity is an increasingly relevant topic for everyone - wherever you are in the world. Maybe we can all learn something from the way The Living Tree Company does things.
Q1 “In your own words; could you give us an explanation of what is that you do?”
I’m an arborist specializing in treecare work - out of the private work we do the vast majority is pruning rather than removals. However most of my work is on environmental contracts, this can be anything from mapping the spread of Kauri dieback, to identifying trees for the potential of bat habitats & helping get scientific researchers into the canopy of trees in forests. We also do some work with the media to help engage the public in environmental matters.
Q2 “Who do you consider your greatest inspiration and why"
*Fredrik & I engage in a short discussion about the difficulty of this question*
My first head chef - he never took shortcuts & always kept quality to the absolute top. For me I’d rather not do a job at all if the money is too low on it and have to do a half-arsed job.
Q3 “What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?”
Overall - my two daughters - Nina & Selma.
In my work - having a job that allows to develop & feel challenged by. Making great connections with passionate people.
Q4 “What was the hardest part of your journey to success?”
To learn how to say no.
Q5 “In your opinion, what are some of the biggest challenges facing the industry in the future?”
There are too few qualified arborists all working hard to make a buck. They can still be really hard workers & admirable people but I think that having a huge pool of unskilled & unpassionate tree workers can make it more challenging for those that are more passionate. Unfortunately I think it may often be the case that they haven’t had the opportunity to train properly.
Q6 “What advice would you give to someone starting out in the industry?”
You’ve got to have fun & follow your heart. Don’t just follow the money.