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Tree Officers: An endangered species?

Local Governments across the land have faced major cut backs with funding in recent years, and many posts have been lost.  There has been a loss of tree officers, both in terms of numbers and experience.  I recently encountered a situation within Wales of someone without the relevant experience and background covering both trees and historic environment.  It wasn’t ideal, as the officer, doing their best, was unaware of the implications of a recently served Tree Preservation Order on the progress of regenerating a brown field site.

Lack of experience in becoming notable.  Two years ago, I was an expert witness in a court case concerning an alleged breach of a TPO.  It became apparent during the process that this was the first time that the team leading the prosecution had travelled the route.  Consultants often ‘share’ notes of dealings with officials who can frustrate through attitude and approach, and of making life difficult.  However, I personally prefer to work with officials who are thorough in their approach, ensuring that trees are suitably protected, landscape schemes are of an appropriate calibre (and buildings of historic importance are duly valued).

After a stint teaching, I began my professional career in arboriculture working as a tree officer, and look back fondly to those days.  I value tree officers.  As a consultant, I need them to request the information that I provide.  I was recently requested to provide a tree report to BS5837:2012 for a site near to me in Herefordshire, as a condition for approval.  It happens that the site is straight forward, with no tree removals being required.  However, once permission has been granted, it is a bit late requesting basic information about the trees on the site.  The request was made by a landscape officer!

I was once asked whether I took a different view to retaining trees within a development setting as a consultant compared to my time as a tree officer.  I do try to remain as balanced as I can, and seek for the retention of trees of merit.  However, ultimately, without the tree officer in post, and active, I am limited.  If a tree is protected, I can use this as the basis for negotiations.  Without protection, I am limited.

In the absence of tree officers in post, I have been involved with a site where a new TPO was served minus the First Schedule (!).  The document contained the schedule, but with no details.  I have also encountered a brown field site with a TPO detailing which trees were to be retained.  There was a potential conflict between the trees being retained and the derelict infrastructure being removed.  Having just made the order, the local authority, minus a tree officer, indicated a pragmatic resolution.  I wondered if this was the case, why the order was made in the first place!

‘Peer reviews; an enjoyable task?’

Being involved with the running of a magazine, I sometimes get invited to review books.  This can be a pleasurable task.  It does have its’ moments.  Occasionally, one is presented with a poor book, but this is not a regular occurrence, fortunately.  Last year, I had the pleasure of reading ‘Ancient and Other Veteran Trees’, edited (and largely written by) Dr. David Lonsdale.  And I got to keep my complimentary copy.

During the launch of the new course ‘Young Trees: Achieving Longevity in the Landscape’, trainer Keith Sacre had a list of key texts for delegates.  This was based on his extensive work on the establishment of young trees both for his Master’s degree and writing the new BS8545:2014 ‘Young Trees: From Nursery to Independence Within the Landscape’.

The number one text is ‘Trees in the Urban Landscape: Site Assessment, Design and Installation’.  Keith has lent me his own copy for me to review.  It is a meaty text, which explores issues of which I previously knew surprisingly little.  I am appreciating, especially when it comes to soil, there are those, to quote Keith, ‘who have forgotten more than I will ever know!  Meanwhile, guess what I am doing in the evenings!  Writing a peer review requires one to read the text, which in this case is taking quite a few hours.

The review will be featured in the CAS Magazine in the autumn.  Unfortunately, this is one text that I have to return.

The AA Annual Conference

I’ve been looking at the list of speakers for this year’s conference, and I’m impressed.  The following is but a summary.

Monday – Professor Cecil Konijnendijk, Dr. Peter Hobson, Dr. Glynn Percival, Dr. Dealga O’Callaghan

Tuesday – Dr. Kathleen Wolf, Professor Rob Mackenzie, Jeremy Barrell, Frank Rinn, Dr. Ken James

Wednesday – Jerry Dicker, Sharon Hosegood, Dr. John Flannigan.

Closing Keynote Speaker: Tony Juniper, author of ‘What has nature ever done for us?’

I have only just finished writing up my review notes from the ICF’s ‘Trees, People and the Built Environment’ 2!  This year is the 50th Anniversary of the forming of the Arboricultural Association, and I am sure it is going to be a first rate event.  The ‘early bird’ booking discount remains open until Wednesday.  Go to www.trees.org.uk to book your ticket.  The Consulting Arborist Society will be at the Trade Exhibition, but to my deep regret, I shall not be in attendance. The event is happening on the same week as the APF’s biennual trade event, APF2014, to which I am already committed.  Such is life!  I’ll look forward to the reviews.

The Value of Good Research

The topic of research has had an increased profile in recent years, with the issue of tree health in the face of a range of pathogens, and the work of Fund 4 Trees in raising funds to support some projects.  I recently interviewed Dr. Glynn Percival for a feature I plan to run in the Consulting Arborist Society Magazine in the near future.  Glynn values being associated with good research, and was preparing for a visit by Government inspectors who would assess the set up at the Bartlett Research Laboratories at Reading University.  Their hoped-for endorsement is something that Glynn clearly values.

I was at the launch of the new Lantra-endorsed ‘Young Trees: Achieving Longevity in the Landscape’ course which Keith Sacre has written for the Consulting Arborist Society.  The course is backed by a wealth of research which Keith has collated in recent years.  One thing that Keith emphasised as we explored the findings of several projects relating to the course, was to be careful to apply the results in context.  There can be a risk in taking the results from one project and applying them more widely.

As I reviewed the course last week, I recalled his reference to one project on the fluctuation of sugar levels within trees.  The results had indicated that sugars increase in the spring and then gradually decline during the summer months.  The limitation with this research was that the trees involved were spring flowering Cherry, which flower before coming in to leaf.  We don’t know what the availability of sugars might be in trees that don’t produce blossom.

There are several trials running at Barcham Trees’ Ely base, and Keith is looking forward to the findings.  However, he cautioned that they would only show the response of trees growing in containers within a tree nursery environment.  Out in the hostile urban environment, the response may be different.  I recall that Professor Roland Ennos, who spoke at Trees, People and the Built Environment ll, earlier in the year, shared how he preferred to run trials on trees growing in situ.

Appreciating that caveat, some major progress has been made in recent years concerning the management of our urban trees.

Young Trees

Last week, I was at Barcham Trees for the launch of the new ‘Young Trees: Achieving Longevity in the Landscape’ course, written by Keith Sacre.  Keith chaired the Drafting Committee for the new BS5845 British Standard which was published earlier this year.  This course has enabled him to provide flesh for the skeleton that is the British Standard.

Many arborists have experience in selecting trees for planting schemes and arranging post-planting maintenance.  Some are also comfortable undertaking formative pruning.  This course has been on the radar here at CAS Towers for several years, and I have been looking forward to it from the early days when Keith first proposed putting it together.  I have been surprised at the comment from some sceptics who have queried the need to attend a course in planting trees.  Let’s just say that such people will be in for a surprise.

I started my professional career with a placement on a tree nursery and spent a summer pruning young stock.  I became familiar with the three main growing methods of bare root, root-ball and container production.  I have also spent many a fulfilling hour preparing planting schemes and overseeing the planting of nursery stock.  I also find formative pruning to be a particularly rewarding way to spend time, equipping a growing tree for its future.  However, I still have much to learn.

During this course, Keith encourages delegates to question what they are doing, to challenge perceived wisdom and to be willing to consider new approaches.  We explored the issue of root stock compatability.  If the root stock is too vigorous for the cutting, it may sucker and begin to compete with the cutting.  If, however, the cutting is too vigourous, the root stock may not be able to support it.  This is fine, and logical.  However, the group on this course were soon appreciating that we have limited knowledge of which root stock is best for which tree, and what questions to ask.

The importance of the root flare was emphasised, and the problems of planting too deep were presented in a series of slides.  This remains a problem widely encountered in part due to the tendency of those planting trees to dig planting pits too deep for the root ball and then to cover it with a layer of top soil.  This leaves the tree ill-equipped for the challenges of becoming an established specimen.  However, the challenges it is encountering may not become apparent for several years, by which time we may be blaming the supplier for providing poor stock when actually the planting was partly at fault.

Much remains to be done in dessiminating best practice.  However, with this Lantra-endorsed course now launched, the work of evangelising has begun.

When felling is the best way forward

As a tree care professional, and someone who cares about trees, people can be surprised when I visit a site and recommend felling trees.  Sometimes, I recommend quite extensive felling works.  This is usually in connection with woodland management.  I have worked on several sites, here in Herefordshire, and over the border in Caerphilly and down to Cardiff, as the tree consultant in connection with planning applications.  I have had the pleasure of walking through some of the most fantastic mature woodland, with species diversity and age classes.

I have also seen poorly managed sites where young trees are growing less than a metre apart, suffering etiolation and casting such dense shade on the ground below that there is no shrub layer.  It can also be interesting seeing the balance between established, and long-lived trees such as oak and more vigorous Alder, which can spread rapidly within a woodland.  In such situations, the oak seems to be struggling to respond to the challenge from the ‘upstart’ colonising the ground.

In such situations, even where Alder is the expected species, I consider that removal, or coppicing, is preferable in supporting ecology, diversity and the history represented in the oak.  In addition, open spaces, which are not always associated with woodland, provide valuable habitation, especially for invertebrates.

I find it disappointing when visiting a site with woodland planting that has not been maintained, and may require quite major remedial works.  However, at least I can make recommendations aimed at restoration.

Hope for the bigger trees?

The management of tree risk has been a theme for me over the past few weeks.  At the end of June, I was at an event looking at the application of risk management using the ISA’s Best Management Practice guide as a basis.  We explored the issue of how to manage trees of species where there is a tendency to shed branches, such as Ash and Cedars.  There are some great, and often historically important trees within the landscape, many whose presence is due to our Victorian forebears desire to build up collections of trees with specimens from around the world.

I am reluctant to condemn trees without presenting a strong case, especially the giants I come across from time to time.  I enjoy working with trees, and as the group on the course assessed a magnificent Liquidamber one evening, I reminded myself of the privilege of doing what I do.  But sometimes, one has to be pragmatic….

Then to Edinburgh and Experts’ Question Time 2, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh, with Jeremy Barrell and Dr. David Lonsdale.  Both men share a passion for sustainably managing veteran and ancient trees.  Could there be a future for Cedars, among others, when there is the risk of branches being shed?

Referring to a case study involving a Cedar within the grounds of a school, Jeremy shared how with sensitive pruning, the weight on the ends of branches had been reduced, and the tree could be retained for future generations to enjoy.  We were then treated to a guided tour of the Garden by arborist William Hinchcliffe.  William and his team have been pruning a number of trees with heavy branches, including Cedar and Beech.  The work made my admiration for this team grow, and provided a fresh perspective on how big trees can be retained.  When one has to look really carefully to see the pruning wounds, this indicates to me that a highly professional operation has been conducted.

All we need to do now is to share the skills more widely!

A refreshing end to a busy week

This time last week, I was manning the CAS stand at the ARB Show.  Friday saw truly glorious weather, so much so that I suspect a number of visitors possibly took advantage to slip off home early.  It was definitely an afternoon to sit in the shade with a glass of something cool and sparkling.  Saturday dawned with a 5am thunderstorm and further downpour at 10am, but by midday the sky was clear and visitors were soon emerging.

I returned home to a stack of admin and report writing; clients expect reports completing regardless of my own commitments.  Then Thursday saw me heading off to AA HQ for the first meeting of the Consultants Working Group for 2014.  The weather was glorious, and it felt wrong to be inside on such an occasion.

However, Friday saw me visiting a site with a difference.  One in my own back yard, so to speak, a property development site in Herefordshire.  Normally, I am working with a developer seeking to optimise the use of the space and accommodate the needs of trees within a site, and then producing a tree report. However, as I was walking along a track through acres of woodland, I reflected that this was an enjoyable way to spend a Friday afternoon.  The development site was in the middle of a field, next to a derelict property, which is to be rebuilt.

It is on the edge of a village, with plenty of space for trees, some excellent specimens, and a private client keen to work with nature, fully appreciating the setting.  To quote Eric Pickles’ recent comment, ‘among the fields and hedgerows of England’.  Except that we had woodland instead of hedgerows.  Normally, I am invited to provide a landscape scheme dictating tree planting to enhance the development.  Here, in typical Herefordshire landscape, surrounded by the woodland of a private estate, I am more likely to be guiding on tree removal to enhance the setting; the woodland contains numerous conifers from the days of timber plantation.  Amongst these ‘aliens’ are some truly fantastic oaks and a few field maples with dead wood habitation.  I sense a return visit to this site later in the year to guide on woodland management and managing some veteran Lime trees. It is the opportunity to produce tree reports for sites such as this, that remind me why I enjoy working as a Herefordshire arborist!

Apologies to those who visited the CAS stand and have yet to hear from me; I’ll be in touch later this coming week, when the diary has calmed down.

Now for the next event; Expert’s Question Time: 2. Rooms booked, train ticket reserved, just need to liaise with delegate enquiries and arrange catering.

A day at the ARB show

The annual ARB show has become a fixture in the diary here at CAS Towers.  Whilst the overall theme is undoubtedly practical arboriculture, it has a friendly atmosphere and is a great opportunity to present the society to a new audience.  I remember visiting the event in previous years, helping out at the ISA stand and then, in 2011, having a stand next to the ISA.  Russell Ball was ISA President, and we had great fun running events side by side.

Three years ago, Bob Widd joined me in running the stand, and this year, Paul Barton has become part of the team.  This makes for great dynamics.  Since Karen Martin became the AA’s CEO, the event has expanded, with an evening feature for exhibitors.  Her team are really friendly, and it is an event I look forward to.

Being at an event such as this is more than simply attracting new members.  Meeting potential sponsors and networking are also valuable, and much can be gain by a chat over a brew, face to face.

This year, as the date approached, the forecast looked gloomy, with rain forecast for Friday.  On Thursday evening, the team enjoyed a meal in a pub where the glass frontage had been opened so we were looking on to the pavement and able to talk to passers-by.  It was reassuring to see familiar faces gathering in preparation for the show.  Sitting in the shade of the catering marquee on Friday evening, sipping on a glass of something cold and sparkling, looking at numerous sun burnt faces, I reflected on a really good day.  I heard that some 1300 plus had passed through the gates by midday.  A good few of them came to the CAS stand, and I have some work to do when I return following up on enquiries.

I was also pleased to chat with Gavin McEwan from Horticulture Week about recent events at CAS, and especially the launch of our new Lantra endorsed Trees and Planning Report Peer Reviews and the pending Young Trees course.

The next event is in Edinburgh, with Expert’s Question Time 2.  At least that event does not depend on the weather.

Summer’s here; time for the ARB Show

I am reminding myself, with temperatures in the teens and the sun as elusive as a mid-summer frost (it is that yellow thing sometimes seen in the sky), we are in the summer months.  The French tennis open is underway, and I am busy preparing for the AA’s annual trade show.  I first attended on behalf of Russell Ball, former president of the ISA, but for the past three years, have had a stand with the Consulting Arborist Society.

In the early days, it was just me, doing my bit.  However, a team is assembling.  Bob Widd, CAS Chairman, joined two years ago, bringing his unique brand of practical know-how, can-do attitude and humour.  And the laptop in order to finish a report he has been working on.

This year, Paul Barton is joining us, and it should be a good time, excellent opportunity to network and to promote our new course ‘Young Trees: Achieving Longevity in the Landscape’, which is being launched at Barcham Trees on 22nd July.

One thing I really appreciate about the ARB show, apart from the helpful and professional ‘can-do’ staff (ever tried to exhibit at the biennual APF event?), is the ‘T’ bar stands they provide for some exhibitors.  These were reassuringly sound during the storms in 2011.  The APF, who attract some 15,000 plus visitors, simply provide a piece of ground in the field, requiring the CAS marque to make its’ biennual outing.

Anyway, I’ll soon be packing the stand and my bags and moving CAS Towers to Cirencester.  I hear that there is a hog roast this year; I’ll have to sample some of the fare!