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The value of the Tree Preservation Order

For me, my career in arboriculture really took off when I was appointed Tree Officer in Planning for Dudley Council.  I was responsible for the administration of the TPO service, among other things.  Whilst a decade has passed since I left Dudley, I look back fondly on those days.  Protection of trees using TPOs is a key tool for the arborist and urban forester.

Attending Richard Nicholson’s course ‘Tree Preservation Orders: Effective Application’ provided a welcome refresher for me, in part because he reviewed the 2012 Regulations, and the differences between dealing with TPOs in England compared to Wales.  Richard briefly explored the role of planning conditions in protecting trees.  The consensus was that these are of limited value, in part because the consequences of a breach can be limited, and also planning conditions generally last only five years at most.

Talking with delegates, I realised that the experience of the tree survey being a condition of approval was not limited to me.  I remember visiting a site near to me in rural Herefordshire back in the summer, where a tree survey showing the Tree Protection Plan was a condition of approval.  It happens that with that particular site, the owner wish to build a single property, and was keen to retain trees, their presence being an important feature of the setting.  It was notable that the request for the survey came from a landscape officer, and not the tree officer.  Fortunately, there was no conflict between the proposed development and the trees to be retained.  I do wonder what happens when there is an issue.

I was working on a school site in Dulwich during the summer.  The site contains a fantastic specimen London Plane, which is being retained.  I am not sure whether it is covered by a TPO, but there is sufficient local importance attached to its’ retention (which is merited) that I was instructed, as Project Arboriculturist, to supervise excavation works to remove tarmac around the base.  The site was tight, and I realised during one visit that some trees which were to be retained were now being affected as the practicalities of construction became apparent.  Scaffolding, it seemed, may not have been fully accommodated in the design.  I realised that several trees which should have been retained, would not be.

I read this week of tree felling on a proposed development site in Manthorpe in Grantham, where the developer wishes to construct some 550 new homes.  The argument of tree safety was raised.  I cannot say whether this was merited, although in my experience, it can be used when convenient to facilitate the removal of trees others wish were not present.  Anyway, residents and local councillors spoke of their anguish, and disappointment that the planning process was not being adhered to.  One councillor said that he noted the premature decision to clear the site, and did not approve.  Problem with all this beating of chests is that and expressing disapproval is, as someone associated with the site pointed out, the trees were not protected, and there was nothing to stop the landowner felling the trees.  With a resigned feeling deep down, I pondered on the lack of action by the local authority in making a TPO for the site.

I have spoken before of the frustration when encountering poor administration or the inappropriate use of a TPO.  Several years ago, the potential for dormouse habitation (which evidence suggested was very unlikely) within a woodland which needed significant management was used to limit the extent of the work.  It still required quite onerous arrangements to be put in place to ensure none of these little chaps would be affected, and was not within the spirit of the legislation.  However, I’d rather experience these frustrations than see trees being felled unnecessarily because the protection measures which are available have not been used.

Anyway, I’m off to survey some more trees now, and find a slot in the diary for the next Mortgage Report Writing course.

STOP PRESS: Young trees course receives Lantra endorsement.

Well, maybe a bit dramatic.  However, this course has been some time in the making. Keith Sacre first proposed it to me some 3 years ago, and the draft arrived earlier this year.  We ran the pilot course in July, and last week, Lantra let me know that it has received their ‘endorsement’ for quality.  The first course is being run at Barcham Trees on 8-10 December and bookings are coming in thick and fast.

For those of you who ponder the need for three days to cover ‘how to plant a tree’, I encourage you to read my review from the July course.  Let’s just say that I learnt a great deal on the course, and several who attended the pilot are booking for colleagues to attend it next month.

I am also relieved that the endorsement has come with plenty of time to spare; endorsement for the TPO course CAS ran at the start of the month arrived during the week of the seminar, and some midnight oil was burnt getting there.

Now on to the next one.  We are looking for a date for the Mortgage course.  Watch this space…..

Tree Preservation Orders: Practical Application

I hosted the new Tree Preservation Orders: Practical Application course at Malvern Hills District Council yesterday.  It was quite an operation, and went very smoothly.  When Richard Nicholson agreed to run the day, I was keen to attract a good turn out, appropriate and in keeping with his credentials.  It would have felt rather extravagant to have him speak to half a dozen CAS members.  I am also aware of the need to share best practice, having encountered some notably poor decisions in recent years.

The course was opened up to tree officers and contractors as well as consultants, and 35 people turned out for the day, about one third of them being tree officers or those involved in administering this function within the planning process.  I gave Richard a big build up, and he didn’t disappoint!  He shared about the 2012 changes to regulations, the requirements and importance of ensuring TPOs are enforceable, and how to effectively enforce, with particular reference to interviews and the all-important caution.

During the day, someone asked how I feel about TPOs, being a ‘gamekeeper turned poacher’.  Did I feel that they are a weapon used against me.  I replied that I don’t see it that way.  I value trees, and appreciate the protection that TPOs give when applied properly.  There are many situations where TPOs could be used, and are not.

I get frustrated when I see poorly made TPOs.  I had this experience last year, on a site in Wales, where the tree officer who instigated making of the order left the authority before it was served.  A technical officer took the matter forward, and managed to serve the order without including the locations of the trees within the First Schedule.  The document was subsequently sent to me.  I was informed, but I’m not the land owner.  In such cases, I feel sorry for those involved.

What annoys me is where a TPO is used wrongly.  One point emphasised to me early in my days as a tree officer was that the tree being covered by the TPO should be of sufficient value and importance to merit the protection from the start.  It should not be used to frustrate the planning process.  Several years ago, I was working with a client on a potential development site in North London.  I won’t name the authority, but access to the potential plot would have been over the tree-lined grass verge beyond the plot, which was owned by the local authority.  The proposal was apparently a bit contentious.  A TPO was served on some of the trees on the grass verge, owned by the council.  They only protected enough to cover the area in front of the plot, and used an area classification order.  The verge was so narrow that the ‘sides’ of the ‘square’ forming the area merged when the site plan was printed, so an area wasn’t actually created.  My objections were dismissed, and a really poor legal document was confirmed.  This is the type of situation that annoys me.

However, most errors are either genuine mistakes, or historic.  In my tree officer days, I worked with orders made before I was born.  There is little that one can do when faced with the potential for taking enforcement action, and then finding that the document being relied upon is vague, lacks detail, or wasn’t confirmed.

Having been on the course, I travelled up to Chester today to meet a client who has a protected tree in their garden, and needed guidance on how to manage it.  I haven’t been to that part of the world before, but when one offers a national service, and someone needs my help, I’m happy to oblige.  Anyway, I was presented with a TPO with a plan so poor it was hard to see the layout of the site.  I couldn’t find reference to confirmation, not the Article three notification.  I shall be following it up next week, as the order may not be enforceable.  I was rather bemused to see a consent from two years ago for pruning refer to works being to BS3998 2010 ‘in the interests of the local amenity’.  Richard Nicholson discussed ‘amenity’ yesterday, and highlighted that it is too vague a phrase to be used to justify making a TPO.  To use it to justify that tree works should be professional seems to me to be absent minded.  I specified BS 3998 with reference to industry best practice.  Having had the benefit of a really useful refresher from Richard, I hadn’t expected to be using it quite so soon.

Meanwhile, CAS has a new Lantra endorsed competency, with confirmation coming through mid-week, which was most welcome.

An appreciated gesture

The Tree Council was founded in the mod 1970s to promote planting of the next generation of trees.  It remains active in promoting trees as a voice of the government, whoever is in office.  Two years ago, I was invited, as Chairman of the Consulting Arborist Society, to attend a reception at the House of Lords to celebrate the annual National Tree Planting event, which is held in early November.

For those who spend their lives working outside, or in the regions, such as myself, it is a surreal experience to be walking the corridors of power.  Many people in the tree world give of their time freely, and the reception is a wonderful gesture of appreciation.

Bob Widd, my colleague, who provides the valued support and counsel as Chairman at CAS, received his invitation last month, and I am delighted to be joining him for this occasion.  Russell Ball, who has given so much, both as President of the ISA (UKI Chapter) and in his role with Fund 4 Trees, a charity which he founded, is also on the guest list.

My abiding memory from two years ago was of the Master of Ceremony announcing our host with the instruction ‘pray silence’.  The noble Lord Best promptly took to the stage to the most inappropriate silence, rather than the round of applause that was due.

Last time, I felt very much a stranger amongst the guests, who included many of the ‘great and the good’.  At least, this time, I won’t be on my own.

I also note (to myself) how things have changed for me.  My visit to London in 2012 was a rare excursion to the capital.  This year, I have been there on average at least once every other month, and am arranging my schedule to include several meetings.  Let’s just say that life is busy!

Westonbirt – a day off!

Life has been particularly hectic in recent weeks.  After the hectic season of trade shows and conferences, and completing the ‘Train the Trainer’ course, in September, October has given me the chance to catch up in the office.  And back to the typical timescale of clients.  There was the site where a tree report was needed, as someone has spotted that trees may be affected.  No rush, except the application has already been submitted, even if it hasn’t been registered by the planners yet!

I have found myself travelling the four corners, with meetings and site visits.  This included a trip to London, and an encounter on the underground.  A meeting at Waterloo was an unforgettable experience, even if one I would happily forget.  I thought that I’d seen a crowd!  The train arrived empty, one-third of the commuters moved forward, the carriages were soon packed, standing room only, then doors closed and on its way.  Fortunately, the next train arrived within minutes, and I was soon on my way.

Bookings for next week’s seminar on Tree Preservation Orders are going well, better than I had anticipated.  However, I am really pleased.  Having Richard Nicholson as the speaker is a real coupe, and I wanted a decent audience for the event.

The Chartered Institute of Horticulture is hosting a visit to Westonbirt Arboretum this Saturday.  Sounds like a great excuse for a day off, albeit one on a busman’s holiday!  However, knowing me, there’ll be a write-up!

The need to get it right, first time

Regular readers of this column will be aware that Tree Preservation Orders, and dealing with trees affected by them, keep me busy.  Whether it it guiding clients through the process of obtaining permission to work on protected trees to helping in their response to new orders, I am on hand to help.  My own experience has included the administration of TPOs within a local authority, undertaking a review of orders for Walsall Council, and a successful prosecution whilst at Dudley Council.

Sometimes, people see my work as a consultant as being ‘game-keeper turned poacher’, and suggest that I prefer to work on sites where none of the trees is protected.  Actually, regardless of the hat I am wearing, I value and appreciate trees, and there is a comfort in knowing that those of value are protected.  What causes frustration, and did in my days in administrative roles, is encountering poor orders.  Trying to enforce an order only to find that it was never confirmed, and so cannot be enforced, is frustrating.  Finding that a magnificent oak of historic importance is included in a TPO  with a plan which is too vague to actually find the location, is disheartening.

These tend to be historic issues.  However, I am finding, now I am in private practice, and encountering local authorities across the land, that errors remain.  I have in recent times guided a client who was served with a TPO covering trees on council-owned land at the bottom of her garden, where an Area designation had been used, but the site was so narrow that the two dotted lines enclosing the area had merged.  Area designations should only be used as a temporary measure where access is restricted, and/or it is impractical to plot the trees because there are so many of them.

I sense that there are those within the administrative process who view the felling of trees as a criminal offence, and would be happy to see offenders strung up!  One site I have been involved with had woodland covered by a Woodland designation.  This was perfectly fine.  Except that woodland needs to be managed, and when the natural regeneration has grown so much that there is no ground cover, the best option can be to get the chainsaw out and start clearing the site.  When a local authority is reluctant to explore such options, sadly but understandably landowners tend to become cautious in their approach.

Having said all this, and being en-route to help someone with a Cedar that is shedding branches, I don’t want this column to be seen as an attack on tree officers.  Many are over stretch and doing their best in an increasingly impossible situation.  Some find themselves in roles where senior colleagues have left and the loss of experience is being keenly.  One officer I have spoken to recently shared with me how in order to produce a tree strategy for his authority, he has worked all weekend and put in several late nights.  He cares!

I benefitted from training, and the input of Richard Nicholson, a man with considerable experience in this field.  I had a bit of a brainwave back in the summer; encouraged by a CAS member who said they’d send a team member to the course if Richard was taking it, I explored how we could enable as many people as possible to attend.  We would need a sufficiently spacious venue, centrally located and ideally with a welcoming host.  Malvern Hills District Council stepped forward as host.  By separating the seminar from the assessment, the cost for those on a tight budget is kept down, and I have arranged a sponsor for the catering.  The seminar costs just £60 + VAT, with the assessment also £60 + VAT.  And delegates don’t need to know about trees to attend this event, just be keen to learn.

And yes, places remain.  Richard Nicholson has updated his course material, and it should make for an excellent day!

Russell Ball: A Trail Blazer

Russell Ball is someone one could call a human dynamo.  He operates with incredible energy and demonstrates deep generosity.  He works hard behind the scenes bring people together, recognising that together, we are stronger, and more can be achieved.  Russell is great is drawing the best out of others and persuading people to do what has previously not been considered.

About five years ago, Russell was attending a conference when he heard of the difficulties being experienced by those undertaking research in to topics relating to arboriculture, in attracting funding.  This is not an issue just for UK research.  In the US, an annual cycle ride is held to coincide with the ISA Conference, raising funds for research.  Called ‘Ride 4 Research’, it has generated millions of dollars for the cause.

Russell appreciated that nothing like this existed in the UK, and so founded the charity Fund 4 Trees, with Ride 4 Research as one of the fund raising activities.  In the past three years, he has organised a series of rides to coincide with various conferences and other events, persuading typically 20-25 fellow cyclists to join him.  The rides have involved visits to schools along the route, where Russell has shared about the benefits of planting trees, alongside actually planting some (donated by Barcham Trees).

However, Russell is not one to rest on his laurels.  He began to explore other ways to generate funds.  How about cycling from Lands’ End to John O’Groats.  This became an 18 day trip, timed to include a Ride 4 Research tour in London at the start of the AA’s annual conference, where he was joined by about 20 other cyclists.  I think that he has visited somewhere in the region of more than a dozen schools en route.

Russell arrived at the end of a journey of more than a thousand miles (1050 to be precise) on Friday morning.  Except for the link up in London, the event has been solo!   His target is to raise £5000 for research.

He is already planning an abseil for 2015.

To donate, go to https://www.justgiving.com/russell-ball-end2end

APF 2014; a full-on experience

I am back in the office having spent much of the past two weeks away on CAS business.  A full week of pretty demanding training leading to the award of the Train the Trainer qualification then taking my Emergency First Aid At Work course left me Tuesday in the office before heading off to Ragley Hall near Alcester in Warwickshire to set up the CAS stand for the biennual APF 2014 trade event.

The stand (a marquee) was set up during a gloriously warm afternoon, with the organisers spraying water on the ground to suppress dust.  I needed to make an early start in order to get to the CAS stand before the 9am cut-off point, and made it with 10 minutes to spare.  The marquee remained in tact and I was soon in action putting out the fliers and note pads we’d printed for the event.  The day was again glorious and I got to meet associates on the Moulton College stand as well as my neighbours, Sparsholt College and a stand selling Norwegian outdoor clothing.  I also got to talk to the editor of Pro-Arb, a recently launched publication for arboriculture.  I am going to write several articles for this magazine, a publication which I have been receiving for several months.

I was on my own at the CAS stand, which made for a long day.  As 6pm arrived, I took my leave and headed for the hotel with some relief, only to find that there are two Travelodges linked to nearby Stratford-Upon-Avon.  I thought I’d booked in to the one in Alcester, just 10 minutes from the exhibition site.  However, I soon found that my digs were actually in Stratford, fronting a dual carriageway, and nearly 30 minutes from the venue.  I reached my room at 7pm.  A CAS member had offered to come to the event on the last day and help out, and help to dismantle the stand.  I thought that I’d booked for him to stay at the same place as me, but I’d actually booked him at the Travelodge in Alcester.  It made for extra complications as we worked to meet up on Friday evening.

Friday dawned wet and grey, and when I got to the stand, the organisers were busy spreading mulch on muddy spots.  Queues were already forming outside the main gate, and I had to settle for a place in the main car park.  By mid-morning, heavy downpours were sending visitors in to tents and marquees.  The afternoon dried out, and I was able to meet with the team from Lantra who are guiding me on the development of several CAS courses.

It was great to have company on the stand on Saturday, and we had enquiries from visitors exploring developing their technical skills.  It was a busy day, with more families in attendance.

The APF event is quite different to the others I attend.  There is a major focus on forestry machinery, with some seriously substantial kit being demonstrated.  I attended for the first time at Cannock Chase in 2010, and it was sobering to see the size of machinery being brought in at the end of the event to take exhibits away.  I could see some lorries being able to drive over my car without even noticing it, and the end of the event seemed a bit chaotic.  I am pleased to say that it has been much better the last two occasions.

At the end of the first day, an estimated 4800 visitors had been through the gates, about double the number who attended both days of the AA’s annual ARB Show in June.  One of the main drawbacks for me when attending APF is that we are only supplied with a pitch.  The various conferences provide indoor accommodation and the AA offers a marquee for those who prefer this arrangement, which makes life easier.

Meanwhile, at the AA’s annual conference, Keith Sacre, friend to many in arboriculture, was given the annual award (for outstanding contribution to arboriculture).  I’ll be writing about him shortly.  And my order book has filled up, which is good news, having been away from the office for so long.

Tree Inspection

You would expect me to be a strong exponent of training and professional development for the professional arborist.  This is especially important for those involved in inspecting trees.  Back in 2010, I successfully completed the Lantra Professional Tree Inspector qualification.  In July, I also successfully completed the ISA’s TRAQ qualification.  Inspecting trees is not for the amateur.

I was therefore interested to read that the Senior Coroner for Berkshire has raised concerns about the need for training at one local authority.  An inquest was called following the death of a motorist from a falling branch from a roadside tree within Bracknell Forest Council.  It seems that the local authority employed two Highways Inspectors to identify highways hazards, including those from trees.  Other potential hazards included potholes and poor and obscure signage.  It seems that the two inspectors were expected to do this whilst travelling at speeds of ‘rarely less than 30 miles per hour’.

The interesting thing is that I could possibly do a good job identifying potholes, using the ‘mug of tea’ approach.  You can soon tell if the road surface needs attention when the tea spills!  I can also do a fair job looking for obscured road signage.  I have missed a few junctions when the key sign is obscured, and it is something I actively look for when assessing trees.  However, I find that the arrangement doesn’t tend to work the other way round, expecting engineers to be able to identify tree risks.

It also seems that the inspectors last received some training some seven years earlier.  I know that I need more regular training than that.  Indeed, as a Fellow of the Arboricultural Association, I am required to undertake some fifty hours of relevant training over three years.  It seems that the situation is sufficiently serious for the Coroner to have issued the first tree-related Prevention of Future Deaths Report.

When it comes to tree inspection work, care is needed.  I don’t expect non-arborists to be equipped to prepare the required method statement.  In the past year, I have undertaken tree inspections for a range of sites including Hereford Hospital and some 80 sites for Mercia Housing.  Whilst these sites require attention to detail (the hospital site includes a helicopter landing bay), they are not as sensitive as highways trees.  For both of these clients, I was requested to provide a method statement.

There has been a loss of arboricultural expertise within local authorities in recent years.  My hope is that this action by the Coroner will reverse the loss.

Going the Extra Mile

Many in the world of arboriculture are willing to go the extra mile.  However, some do something really exceptional.  When Russell Ball’s term as ISA Chapter President ended back in 2012, he threw himself in to a new project, of raising funds for research in to urban forestry and associated causes.  He has since organised a series of rides usually in conjunction with other events, such as annual conferences of the Arboricultural Association and the ICF.  These have typically covered 30 miles and involved visits to several schools.

In one of the moments which Russell will, no doubt ponder his wisdom, he decided to raise the bar.  How about riding from Land’s End to John O’Groats?  The journey, which begins on 9th September, will cover 1000 miles and take 18 days to complete.  During this time, Russell plans to visit 13 schools and talk to some 4000 pupils.  He is also hoping to raise the profile of his work.  I have invited him to write a regular update on progress and his ponderings during this phenomenal event.

I congratulate Russell on such an initiate.  I am pleased that the Consulting Arborist Society is supporting the work.  And I wish him well.  Go for it!