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A Finite Life

Back in my days as a tree officer for Dudley Council, I remember being asked to advice on a situation where several Beech trees within an historic park were to be felled.  The park had recently gained protection due to its’ historic connections, and there was concern that the trees were to be felled.  When I visited the site, I found the trees, each a giant from centuries earlier, were succumbing to pathogenic fungi (including Meripilus giganteus and Armillaria melia).  I explained to the residents that, unlike the buildings within the park, which can be restored, each tree has its’ day.  These trees had done well to live as long as they had.  They are biological organisms which do not live forever.

I recently visited the gardens at the Palace of Versailles.  I was struck by the prominence of Beech, Hornbeam and Field Maple among the trees present, forming hedges.  I don’t know the detailed history of these gardens, but apparently problems were experienced in the early days when trees which formed the original gardens were damaged by frosts and inclement weather.  Many of these trees died and were replaced.  None of the original plantings remain.

I was struck, as I walked around the site, at how many of the trees and hedging now present is actually quite young.  It reminded me that trees within a landscape are present but for a finite season, and we need to plan for the next generation.

An informed health check

We arborists have been exploring ways to assess the health and condition of trees for decades.  A reliable, preferably non-invasive system that is easy to use and within the price range of the regular user.  Not asking much, is it?  The experienced, informed arborist can assess the condition of a tree from the exterior, but this doesn’t tell us about what is happening inside.

So I was interested to hear of research by Dr. Glynn Percival, who was one of the speakers at CASTech earlier in the month.  He has been working with Keith Sacre, Sales Director at Barcham Trees, applying and developing technology that detects activity at the cell level.  When a plant becomes stressed, the first signs can be detected within cells on the surface of the leaves, as the stomata close to prevent water loss.  It is possible to detect this within hours of changes occurring, before there are any external syptoms.

A plant can cope with the stomata closing for a brief time.  However, if the stomata remain closed for an extended period, O2, the waste product from photosynethesis, builds up, leading to toxic levels, which can become detrimental to the plant.

The technology has been available, and in use in horticulture, and especially the cut-flower trade, for decades.  However, there has been little development of the technology within arboriculture.  Until now.  Keith recalled at CASTech how he had approached Glynn some four years ago to explore applying the technology to nursery trees.  It is one thing to be able to take recordings, but on their own, they are of limited value.  What Glynn and Keith, working with Hansatech Instruments, have done is to develop a base line of good health against which measurements across more than 200 species of trees.

Glynn shared about chlorophyll fluorescence some years ago, and I pursued it, getting a ‘little pea’.  The problem with this kit is that the operator has to know how to use it, and not that many people are as knowledgeable as Glynn on this subject.  Glynn and Keith have developed the Plant Health Index, and both shared their findings at the seminar.  I was able to test one of the ‘detectors’, which was very user-friendly.

Glynn referred to some case studies in his talk.  It is possible to detect drought stress within 4-8 hours of the stomata closing, and 8-12 days before symptoms become visible.  The equipment has been used to assess the health of nursery trees prior to planting.  Glynn admitted he has not always been popular with suppliers when identifying poor vigour in otherwise healthy stock, and I sense he may have held his breath once or twice when giving his verdict on one site where the tests indicated stress, which didn’t show for the next week or so.

Keith shared how it is entirely possible some of the nursery trees we are planting are already dead or terminally stressed.  He is preparing a new course for the Consulting Arborist Society on how to equip young trees for longevity in the urban landscape (to be launched on 22nd July 2014).  It certainly helps the process if the trees are in good vigour when planted!

One thing I particularly like is that whilst this technology may have been developed for nursery trees, it can be used for trees once established within the landscape.  I’ll have to have a chat with Hansatech and see about a trial!

But is it sustainable?

I am not a planner, or an urban designer.  I deal with trees.  However, trees are part of the planning process, so I am often granted a front row seat when it comes to the process of considering applications.  One of the key elements of modern planning, especially following the 2012 reforms, is sustainability.  The problem is that this term is not defined.  A definition that I have heard is of a self-sustaining system that doesn’t need further input, and does not generate waste.

I recall, back in my days with Dudley Council, visiting a school.  The building, solid, form, more than a century old, was to be replaced with a modern, purpose-built facility.  The head teacher showed me the site, and I was able to comment on the arboricultural issues.  He was so pleased with the proposals, which, he said, would lead to a more efficient building, less expensive to heat.  It would only last for thirty years, and need a costly mortgage to cover the works, but this was the way ahead.

I pondered, and wondered whether I was missing something.  The proposal was to replace a 100 year old building with one that would last about one third of that time.  The environmental costs of demolition, site clearance and building the new facility didn’t seem to factor.  The loss of an irreplaceable Victorian building didn’t even enter the radar.

Back in 2012, Prime Minister David Cameron endorsed planning reform, promising in an interview on the BBC’s CountryFile that it would not result in 60 unit developments being imposed on communities.  Not quite sure what happened, as this has since occurred in his own constituency, where highways limitations and poor sewage provision were highlighted as concerns.  Is this not an issue of sustainability?

Earlier this year, again speaking on CountryFile, Princess Anne spoke of the benefits from small scale developments within villages, which can strengthen local communities, rather than larger scale projects on the edge of towns and cities, which local authorities seem to prefer.

I have been working with a number of local developers and land owners here in Herefordshire, guiding on tree retention within schemes that seem to me to be carefully thought out, and where I am able to provide good quality tree planting landscapes.  In these cases, there has been careful consideration of local issues, liaising with local residents, and a desire for consensus.  I spoke to one resident recently, faced with a 60 unit development in a paddock backing on to his garden.  He pondered whether his concerns would hold any weight, and whether the local authority could influence the outcome, other than endorse the outcome.

Planning is really important.  We have to live with the consequences for decades to come.  I know that there are occasions when planners seem to apply rules remote from the realities of modern life.  I have been in a meeting where a senior planner refused to facilitate first floor office space within a development containing a mix of retail and commercial space, stipulating that it needed to be on the ground floor only (anyone seen the views?  I know where I’d rather work!).

However, my conclusions are that the process needs to be carefully considered, to ensure a high standard of design.  I recall a comment in the opening speech at Trees, People and the Built Environment, on behalf of Sir Terry Farrell.  He stated that whereas the planners and engineers focus on the buildings, it is the space between that matters, especially to residents.  Getting it attractive, and filled with green plant cover was his idea of sustainability.  I’ll second that.

VETree Update

I am very interested in the care and management of veteran trees.  There is something about the form of a specimen tree in its’ advance years, and even those that have died can still retain what I see as an elegance.  I was rather disappointed to read in LinkedIn that a pear tree of some 250 years antiquity, which finds itself in the route of the proposed HS2 is planned to be felled, with cuttings being taken to keep the family line alive.  Personally, I find that a sad indictment of our priorities.

However, the Ancient Tree Forum has been working on a project, VETree, to provide training in the management of veteran and other ancient trees.  I understand that a course is planned for the UK in September, which is likely to be over-subscribed.  I am hoping to be among the successful applicants who get to attend (please don’t clash with the APF trade show).

Whether the course will be added to the stable of competencies being recognised by the Consulting Arborist Society is another matter.  Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to seeing the ATF stand at the ARB show next month.

A Vote of Thanks

After much work and preparation, CASTech, the technical seminars planned for Capel Manor College, were held on Friday and Saturday.  The second day, led by the emmitable Dr. Jon Heuch, titled ‘Effective Report Writing’, was more straightforward and followed the traditional CAS route.

However, Friday was a very different creature.  For the first time, I was invited to assemble a line-up of speakers each covering a topic for about an hour.  Excellent presentations by Dr. Glynn Percival, on how a plant’s health can be assessed at the early stages of stress, Howard Dean from BlueGreen Urban on successfully planting trees in impossible places, Keith Sacre on the Plant Health Index and Dr. Jon Heuch top tips for report writing were concluded by Ian McDermott sharing on the ISA’s TRAQ qualification for tree safety inspections.

All speakers gave of their time freely, with high quality presentations.  Much of what was shared was new to me, and I found Glynn’s talk, beginning with the science of tree health, most fascinating.  But then again, his talks tend to be this way.  He is an excellent communicator who usually has new material to share.  Indeed, one speaker joked later on that it would have been fairer on the others for Glynn to have spoken in the afternoon, when his manner would have overcome the usual 2pm delegate fatigue!

BlueGreen Urban, who also sponsored the buffet, shared practical demonstrations of how their infrastructure can enable even substantial trees to be successfully planted in the most inhospitable of environments.  I was particularly interested in their irrigation system.  Simply plugging the end of a perforated length of hose, so that you know 60 litres of water has been delivered, and is then held around the root ball to be absorbed over the coming hours, rather than drain away.  Great idea, and I may be using it on a development site I am working on here in Hereford.  I’ll be chasing them for the diagram!

I hold the Lantra Professional Tree Inspector qualification, and have viewed the discussion and debate surrounding QTRA with interest.  I was therefore particularly interested in Ian McDermott’s talk on TRAQ, and have signed up for the next course, in June.  This time, I’ll be the delegate!

Finally, thanks to Keith Sacre, not only for his presentation but also to him and the team at Barcham’s for supplying two trees for a practical demonstration by BlueGreen Urban using their array of tree-planting tools.  Two large specimens, a Sorbus and an Alnus, of the calibre to be expected, were delivered to the college in time for the seminar.  I really appreciate this gesture, as I understand the delivery was made specially to the site.

The audience thanked each speaker in turn, but this is my opportunity to give a vote of thanks.  In addition, thanks to Jessica Herbert at Moulton College for arranging for 20 of her students to attend.  It was a great opportunity to share these talks with the next generation, and provided an audience worthy of the speakers.

Just got to do some promotional work for Expert’s Question Time 2 in Edinburgh, and a review of CASTech for the CAS Magazine.  Did someone mention a bank holiday?????

AA endorsement for CASTech

Later this week, I’ll be heading east to Enfield in North London for the CASTech technical seminars to be hosted at Capel Manor College (Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd May).  This is a rather different event to the ones I normally organise for CAS, as Friday’s line-up consists of a programme of speakers, rather than one speaker, which is the case for Saturday.  Fortunately, I have been greatly assisted by the willingness of several high calibre speakers to support the event (two Ph.Ds, the Chairman of the committee responsible for the new BS 8545 and a member of the committee responsible for the US-based Tree Risk Asssessment Qualification) plus the team at BlueGreen Urban.

Friday’s seminars look at issues relating to establishing new trees within the urban landscape (the Plant Health Index together with case studies on planting trees in impossible places and the importance of the growing media).  This is followed by Dr. Jon Heuch with his ‘Top Tips for Effective Report Writing and Ian McDermott on TRAQ.  On Saturday, Jon expands on the report writing theme with the one day seminar ‘Effective Report Writing’.

I have been keen to ensure that the event attracts a good audience to do justice to the speakers.  I am expecting a good number of students to attend what will be a high calibre event.  I have been delighted therefore that the Arboricultural Association is willing to endorse the event, and to be associated with it.  AA members can attend on both days at the member discount.  It is so good to be able to work together with the AA in this way.

I’m looking forward to reviewing the day for the CAS Magazine, and learning from the experts on these pioneering topics

BS8545, a bit of a raw deal.

Back in February, BS8545 2014 was finally published.  This document extends to some 80 pages, and is available for the princely sum of £217 + VAT.  It was launched with some fanfare via a roadshow run by the Arboricultural Association beginning back in March.  Those attending the road show get a 25% discount on the publication, taking it to a more affordable £163 + VAT.  Not a cheap item!

However, what has particular surprised me is the way that the authors are rewarded.  I was aware that the British Standards Institute, which owns the publication, does not pay for the time of contributors, nor expenses incurred, including mileage, which can become a challenge when one is self-employed.  I don’t believe contributors even get a complimentary copy of the final document.

Keith Sacre identified the need for this document.  He then wrote much of it, re-writing it several times.  It is, to about 85%, his work, and all the illustrations are his own.  I am therefore quite shocked that not only is he not attributed as an author, or member of the committee charged with producing this mammoth tone.  He actually gets no mention whatsoever.  Indeed, a valued member of the committee gets mentioned by virtue of having written one of the scientific papers referred to in the document.

Having contributed so much to this document, Keith is now writing a new course covering the themes he has identified in the process of equipping the next generation of trees to become established.  This course will, in due course, become a new Area of Professional Competency with the Consulting Arborist Society, with a launch date hopefully in the summer.  The aim is to extent the knowledge and experience Keith has accumulated to a wider audience.

CAS may not have the history and pedigree of the British Standards Institute (it was only founded in 2003).  However, we shall ensure that Keith’s contribution for our course is fully recognised.

A moment to reflect.

I have been working on reviews for TPBE2 this week.  I anticipated before the event that there would be some major material, given the calibre of the speakers.  I was not disappointed, and am pleased I went with the intention of making copious notes.

Looking back, there was some high quality, pioneering material, with John Letherland identifying that the spaces between buildings is more important to users than the actual buildings.  As a non-engineer, to hear examples of highways being reclaimed for green space and its’ importance was refreshing.  I wrote a short review immediately after the event, and managed to get it down to 2000 words over four pages.  However, this didn’t do justice to the content, and I have been able to expand the reviews with individual reviews.

Kathleen Woolf spoke on why we should plant trees, and referred to working on research on the retail environment.  It was interesting that retailers were reluctant to have trees by their shops, concerned about displays being obscured.  She asked shoppers whether they preferred trees within retail centres, and found that actually the presence of trees enhance the retail experience.

Attending the event was a fulfilling experience.  Now that I am writing up my notes, I am getting a chance to revisit some great material.

‘An Entertaining Evening’

During last week’s ICF conference ‘Trees, People and the Built Environment 2’, the Institute held its’ annual dinner and presentation.  I’m not one for these formal occasions, but the guest speaker was the highly engaging Clive Anderson and so it seemed to be an event to attend.  I remember watching Clive on ‘Whose Line is it Anyway’ and ‘All Talk’.  There was the memorable occasion when the BeeGees were his guests and he was rather rude to them.  They promptly walked out on him!

Anyway, I sat down to this formal event, with more than 200 other guests, so it clearly was popular (I don’t know how many people normally attend the annual dinner, but I recognised several ‘arbs’ who were not at the conference, so I suspect the speaker was a factor.

After the various awards had been given, Clive was introduced by our host, ICF Presence Professor Julian Evans.  Professor Evans strikes me as a true gentleman, a man of integrity.  I doubt that he was responsible for the typing error, or perhaps utter oversight in the evening’s programme, which listed the speaker as ‘Clive James’, the Australian host.  Needless to say, our speaker made good use of this error, referring to the Professor as ‘Julian Clary’ on one occasion and later on as ‘Julian Lloyd-Webber’!

The evening’s programme had over run, but the diners were soon in fits of laughter as Mr. Anderson regaled with moments of humour.  With reference to the forthcoming referendum on Scottish independence, he reminded us that he too was born on the border, although in his case it was the one between Berkshire and Buckinghamshire!  Thankfully, he did not stick to his allotted 20 minutes, and by the time he took to his seat, we were nearly at closing time for the bar!

There are many serious moments in the life of the arboricultural consultant.  This was a particularly memorable time for value humour, and one I shall remember for some time to come.

Royal Endorsement for TPBE2

The long-awaited Trees, People and the Built Environment 2 was held last week.  I wasn’t able to attend the first conference, held in 2011, so was extra keen to be able to make it this time.  An event attracting 400 plus delegates on the subject of trees is of high calibre.  I’ll confess that many of the speakers, including a smattering of knights of the realm and professors alongside numerous Ph.Ds are not familiar to me but this partly reflects the emphasis on contributors from outside the arboricultural world.

The first day began with an eight minute video recording from Prince Charles.  However, this was more than merely a few words from a member of the great and good wishing delegates well.  Prince Charles is informed, and passionate on the subject.  He knows his trees.  Indeed, he is known to spend weekends laying hedges on his estate.  He recognised the importance of the conference and set the bar for the programme.

Sir Terry Farrell was to make the opening address.  However, his influence is such that he was unable to attend in person, having been requested to attend an event in London associated with work he has been doing for the Government.  His deputy John Leatherland spoke on his behalf.  I am reviewing the conference in detail for the Consulting Arborist Society Magazine.  However, several comments stood out for me.  John spoke of the need to work together as multi-disciplinary professionals.  He observed that architects tend to focus on buildings, ignoring the space between.  However, it is this space which matters most to the public.

Dr. Kathleen Wolf spoke on the economics of trees, the ‘why’ rather than the ‘how’.  She cited numerous examples where the presence of trees makes economic sense.  One case study she referred to was memorable for me; retailers at a particular development were requesting the removal of trees which obscured their window displays.  However, research undertaken by her department found that the presence of the trees made the setting more appealing to shoppers, who were also more likely to spend money in such settings.

In the midst of many high quality presentations, with a repeated emphasis on working with those of other professions and disciplines, it was the case study shared by Glenn Gorner that demonstrated the importance of this.  He was involved in a project to plant a semi-mature London Plane within the centre of Leeds.  It was to replace six mediocre Whitebeam, and became a major project.  A large team of stakeholders was assembled so that all parties felt involved and any issues were highlighted in advance and solutions prepared.  Even so, a local nature trust was not included at the early stage.  This was an oversight requiring some diplomacy from Glenn.  The project was a great success, generating good will and setting the bar for future tree planting projects.

It seemed to me that the process of involving so many stakeholders was challenging for Glenn.  However, he reflected on its’ importance in ensuring the success of the project.  The tree planting was followed by a particularly dry spring, during which the tree watering programme became utterly inadequate and the contribution of local residents applying literally hundreds of litres of additional water ensured that the tree is still thriving.

I left the conference after two very full days appreciating that I had been at a very special event.  The pages of notes I wrote will keep me busy for weeks to come.  As for the evening with Clive Anderson, that can wait til next week