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‘The Busy Season’

We are about to enter what could be described as the ‘busy season’, in terms of the volume of shows, conferences and seminars over the next few months.  I have just booked the CAS plot at APF 2014, where I will have the joys of erecting the marquee (this is the only event I attend for CAS where no trade stand facilities are provided).  I am also about to reserve the plot for the ARB Show, which promises to be a far more friendly and familiar scene.

Next week, I head up to Birmingham for the TPBE2 conference.  This promises to be an amazing occasion.  It seems to be fully booked, with more than 400 delegates attending.  I had hoped to be able to attend back in 2011, but it was organised for the same week as Capel Manor’s Celebration of Trees, where I was organising a seminar.  This is going to be a full-on event; three parallel seminars so delegates can choose which speakers they wish to hear, a formal dinner on Wednesday night with guest speaker Clive Anderson and a trade exhibition.  Guess who’s trying to do all three?

I plan to review the seminars, so hope to get plenty of material for the CAS on-line magazine.  That’s April.  May sees CASTECH at Capel Manor, two days of excellent technical seminars with Dr. Glynn Percival, Keith Sacre and Dr. Jon Heuch speaking, and the opportunity for delegates to gain 6 units of CPD.  All for just £50 plus VAT.

June offers the ARB show, and someone else being responsible for organising the event, with a marquee provided.  July sees me off to Edinburgh for Expert’s Question Time 2, with Jeremy Barrell and Dr. David Lonsdale.  For this prestigious event, we have the lecture theatre at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens as the venue.  This should be a first rate day.

Then I can take a breather……

The Plant Health Index

Using chlorophyll fluorescence to assess the vigour and condition of plants is not new science.  Indeed, it has been used in the cut flower trade for more than thirty years.  I first encountered it during a seminar being run by the ISA back in about 2001.  In that seminar, two plants were tested, one showing signs of stress via the test, even though both, externally, appeared to be healthy.  The plant exhibiting stress had been sprayed with glyphosate earlier in the day, which explained its’ condition.

However, it is one thing having the knowledge, and another thing being able to apply it.  Dr. Glynn Percival has been working with Keith Sacre and his team at Barchams for the past three years assessing the health of some sixty thousand trees covering 200 species and cultivars.  They have used chlorophyll fluoresce, leaf fluorescence and electrolyte leakage.  The results have enabled them to develop the Plant Health Index as a way to measure plant health and vigour.  The aim is to take this forward as an industry standard.

Both Glynn and Keith will be speaking at CASTECH, at Capel Manor College on Friday 2nd May, and I am looking forward to hearing more of the science behind this technology, and seeing a practical demonstration.

Places are still available, so anyone interested in attending, drop me a line…

The use of templates

As I have developed my report writing skills, I have come to appreciate the value and role of the template as a tool for writing the appropriate report.  Indeed, it is a key element to successfully completing the Cardiff University Expert Witness qualification.  Correctly applied, it ensures that each report follows the recognised layout and order.  It also helps to avoid the need to write out common text afresh for each report, making the process more streamlined.  The author can additionally have confidence that nothing is being left out.

BUT…, and it is key to presenting a professional report…

You need to ensure that the text in the finished report remains relevant to the site for which it has been written.  Most of my reports relate to sites with at least two trees.  Then, out of the blue, I am dealing with a site containing a single tree.  This means that any reference to trees in the plural is no longer correct.  This can mean having to read the text in the Method Statement to ensure all references are to the singular.

If an appendix has been added which is not appropriate to this site, it has no place in the final report, and needs to be deleted.  I also need to ensure that each method statement is relevant to the site and its conditions.

I am occasionally presented with a site where none of the trees present is to be retained (these do occur, in reality, and tend to be sites where the applicant wishes to know the extent to which mitigation planting is required).  For such a scenario, the Method Statement becomes redundant, and I need to remember to delete.

I also need to remember that what goes out is under my banner, and needs to be checked before being sent out.  I have had occasions when between the final edit and converting to pdf, the text alignment changes, and a line on one page is shifted to the next page.  This can affect the page numbering across multiple pages, and detracts from the professional presentation of the report.  I have even experienced a line of text being converted to what I called ‘computer bad language’ with the conversion to pdf.  This needs to be amended in the version I finally send.

If you outsource the graphics element of the report, the final copy needs to be checked, especially when more than one draft has been produced, otherwise details that have been superceded may appear in the issued report.  If I am working on alterations which are subsequently saved, I now allocate the date of saving, and even the time of saving, to the title, so that I know where I am.

There are few things worse that a client highlighting an error or omission in the submitted report suggesting a lack of attention to detail, which detracts from the work which has gone in to the document.  A few minutes checking each page can prove to be among the most important spent on the whole project.

The Duke of Wellington’s Cedar at Kington Lacey

I am not familiar with this site; it is one I have yet to visit.  However, Jeremy Barrell knows both the site and its formally historically important Cedar, planted in the 1700s by the Duke of Wellington to celebrate Nelson’s victory over Napoleon Bonaparte.  The tree was both an excellent specimen and of historic importance.

The tree was felled earlier this year, on safety grounds.  I was talking to Jeremy recently, in connection with the forthcoming seminar he is speaking at, Expert’s Question Time 2, to be held at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens (1st July 2014).  Jeremy has raised concerns, and anguish at the loss of this valuable tree, through the media.  I was aware of his concerns about how such a tree could be lost.

It seems that the opinion of the National Trust’s trees and woodland advisor, Ray Dawes, was sought.  Ray is a respected authority.  It is no surprise that he recommended the tree be retained.  However, Jeremy advised me that the Trust operates a system of delegated decision making, enabling a manager at the site to authorise the felling.  Interesting!  The person who authorised the felling was not, it seems, an arborist, someone with a knowledge and feel for the tree.  Buildings can be rebuilt, restored, renovated.  Trees cannot.  For some reason, the local authority chose not to serve a Tree Preservation Order on this tree.  I believe that Jeremy is exploring the reasons for this.  He suggested to me that ‘safety’ may have been a convenience reason for removing a specimen tree which would have cost money to maintain.

I wonder what the response would be if a local manager approved the demolition of an historic feature.  Would this be ‘part of the delegated process’?

I am sure that this tree will feature in Jeremy’s presentation.  What is concerning to me is what I sense as a relaxed approach from National Trust senior management.  Future generations will not be able to enjoy and appreciate a specimen tree, of significance in its’ own right, as well as being historically important.  As for safety concerns, in  the two cases of prosecution that I am aware of, involving the National Trust, where there was a prosecution on safety grounds, the Trust was exhonorated.  It seems that the battle to protect Britain’s historic trees still has much to do.

The Barcham’s Way

I have come over to Barcham’s for the first seminar in the road show to publicise the new BS8545, presented by Keith Sacre, Peter Thurman and Jeremy Barrell.  I’ll be reviewing this later on.  However, I decided to make the most of my time over here to view the production operation, something I haven’t done before.

With ground conditions still very muddy, my guide, Warren Holmes-Chatfield, concentrated on taking me through operations from his office before we ventured to the potting barn, the venue for the ‘Barcham’s Big Barn’ seminars.  Warren overseas production operations, and I was impressed by the importance that quality control plays in ensuring the quality of stock.  He expects some 90,000 trees to have been potted when that aspect concludes at the end of this month, having started back in October.  With such a scale, operations proceed with military precision.

I began my career working on several tree nurseries, so it was good to see the ‘quality control’ team inspecting young trees recently delivered being individually inspected, branches, stem and roots, prior to potting, to ensure quality.  Those not up to the grade are rejected, and it was reassuring to see most passing the test.  I was also impressed that, despite being able to pot 1000 trees in a day, the inspection is of each tree, and not a sample of each batch.

Once the potting operation has concluded, the ‘Quality Control’ team moves to outdoor operations, pruning, inspecting, overseeing irrigation and feeding.  Most of my links with Barchams are, like many of us, via Keith Sacre, someone who routinely travels the nation in the cause of good nursery stock.  Keith is in charge of sales, and has assembled his own team of finely toned technical experts.  However, given my own practical start, I sense my own allegiance is towards the quality control element of the operation, although on a cold day in early March, I can see the advantage of being in the office.

Tomorrow, I shall be on more familiar territory, in the training room for Keith’s seminar!

BS8545 Road Show

After four years in production, and several re-writes, the new BS 8545 ‘Young Trees: From Nursery to Independence in the Landscape’ has finally been printed.  To mark this, the Arboricultural Association has begun a road show, starting at Barcham Trees.  I was able to attend, and was treated to a range of presentations by three speakers who are expert in their own fields.  Each of Keith Sacre, Peter Thurman and Jeremy Barrell is capable of holding an audience for the whole day, and I suspect that there are several PhDs among them as well.

They explained how the committee responsible for producing this document was assembled, resulting in a high quality, independent piece of work.  I have written a detailed review of the event, which will appear in the Consulting Arborist Society magazine, and has been passed to the AA.  However, it is but a snap shot of the day.  This year is going to be busy, with TPBE 2, Expert’s Question Time 2 and the AA’s 50th Anniversary conference.  However, I would encourage those interested in trees to try to attend.  It is well worth the effort.

Keith, the inspiration behind the new standard, and credited, by the other speakers, is responsible for 80-90% of the contents, is passionate on this subject.  He was able to speak for an hour with just slides, on the importance of root development, making an otherwise dry topic informative.  This was without any props (he has an array of samples to demonstrate his points).  He omitted the importance of budding, due to the time constraints, and there was only passing reference to biosecurity as the clock ticked regardless.

Such is the importance of this subject, and Keith’s own depth of knowledge, that he is working with the Consulting Arborist Society to develop more detailed training on preparing trees in the nursery for the challenges of the landscape, and the incisive questions to ask.  Watch this space for updates.

That this is a moving topic with on-going research and industry developments is evident by reference during the day to a seminar, again hosted by Barcham Trees, just two days earlier on the importance of selecting species suitable to the modern urban environment.

I came away more informed on the importance of planting depth, role of mychorrizae and challenges with over-watering.  It is a long way to Ely, but it was worth it.

Young Trees: It is published, now to explain it.

Keith Sacre, one of the legends of modern arboriculture (at least, in my opinion) shares how, in a possible moment of madness, some four years ago, he was talking to another legend, Mick Boddy (AA Registered Consultant, winner of the AA’s Arboriculture Award and Chairman of the British Standards in Arboriculture Committee).  Mick invited Keith to review an existing British Standard covering the planting of young trees.

Keith commented that this was fine, but what was really needed was a new British Standard covering all aspects involved in establishing young trees, all the way from the nursery to independence within the landscape.  Lo and behold, the proposed new document was subsequently granted a working number, BS8545 and Keith appointed to chair the new committed.  This role has dominated his life over the past four years.  He is widely recognised to have written much of the document himself, which is possibly unique in the history of the British Standards Institute.

Now the part of promoting the new standard and training users in the application of it, begins.  The Arboricultural Association are hosting a road show beginning at Keith’s home of Barcham Trees, in Wednesday 5th March, followed by Leicester, Somerset and Kew Gardens, London.  Keith is, naturally, fronting the event, supported by Peter Thurman and Jeremy Barrell.  To book your place, contact Simon Richmond at simon@trees.org.uk.

I’ll be attending the Barcham’s event, and reviewing it.  Then work continues developing the topic in to a new Area of Professional Competency for the Consulting Arborist Society.  That will involve me.  Oh, what fun lies ahead…..

So, what do you do?

I was recently asked to describe what I do, and a typical week.  It was then that I realised how difficult it is to explain exactly what this is.  I’m a tree consultant!  OK, so what does one of those do?  I have been asked if I need someone to do stump grinding, and someone rang me this week to ask how much diesel I use in my fleet.  I have the amazing fleet of one car, which does me fine!

My work is so varied I now try to provide editorial rather than an advertisement with my logo; it doesn’t really explain what I do.  As a consultant, I do the usual, BS5837 tree reports, as well as surveys and valuations, with the occasional expert witness commission.

I was then asked to describe my typical day/week.  I smiled at this one.  Life is so varied.  At present, with CAS, I am putting together a programme of technical seminars for an event being co-hosted with the ISA at Capel Manor in May.  Dr. Glynn Percival, Dr. Jon Heuch and Keith Sacre lead on Friday 2nd May, on issues relating to establishing young trees (Jon will share on report writing).  Jon leads on his topic on Saturday 3rd May.  This is the first time I have organised such an event.

Expert’s Question Time, at Kew Gardens, was so successful that the two speakers, Jeremy Barrell and Dr. David Lonsdale, have agreed to speak at EQT 2, to be held at Edinburgh Botanical Gardens.  This time, I don’t have Russell Ball organising the event, but it is a valuable experience.  Today, I have been working on the CAS on-line magazine, taking bookings and fitting in a site visit for a quotation.   Tomorrow, I’m hoping to survey some trees and do some admin.

Yes, my life is varied, with no two days, and sometimes no two months the same.  However, I love the variety, and wouldn’t change it.  And I enjoy the challenge of new experiences.

Barcham’s Training Room in Demand

Back in 2005, Barcham’s Tree Nursery extended their office facilities and built a new training room.  Shortly after this, Keith Sacre, the Nursery’s Sales Director, had a brain wave.  He appreciated the difficulties that many arborists, and especially those in employed roles, particularly with local authorities, have funding attending seminars and conference.  So he arranged for speakers to present technical seminars using the training room, which can seat 60 delegates.  The speakers didn’t charge, and neither did Barcham’s, allowing many who would otherwise miss out, to attend and learn.

I am wondering whether Keith anticipated a scenario such as will happen at the start of March 2014.  On Monday 3rd March, Barcham’s host a seminar in their technical series on the subject of choosing the right tree for the situation, based on extensive research.  I’d like to be there, but logistics prevents me.

Then on Tuesday 4th March, the Consulting Arborist Society is running its’ popular Mortgage course, which, at the time of writing is nearly fully booked.  I’ve already done this course, but I’ll be in the area, so plan to pop in and say ‘hello’.

Finally, on Wednesday 5th March, in association with the Arboricultural Association, Keith Sacre is launching a roadshow to accompany the pending publication of the new BS8545 ‘Young Trees’.  He chaired the committee that wrote this document.  I’m definitely going to that!  And I’ll be reviewing it for the Consulting Arborist Magazine.

Then I’ll take a breather!

The value of mentoring

Mentoring is recognised as a valuable way to pass skills from one generation to the next.  Training ventures such as apprenticeships, with structured learning, usually within a team, are helping to span the skills gap.  However, many in arboriculture, as well as horticulture, work alone or as specialists within a team, with little support.  One is often deemed to be the expert, even when the feeling may be far this.

The Institute of Horticulture has been trialling a programme whereby volunteer mentors are matched with mentees.  The mentors offer support and encouragement, and are there at the end of the phone or meeting for a coffee.  Those who participate speak often highly of the experience.  However, it is limited by the number of suitable volunteers.

Another way to help, which I have appreciated, is through practical seminars and peer reviewing of reports.  This has been particularly helpful for me.  Dr. Jon Heuch, a man of considerable experience within his field, and also someone with a teaching style that is easy to follow, has presented a number of technical seminars via the Consulting Arborist Society.  These include one on ‘Effective Report Writing’.  Jon has structured the course so that beginners don’t feel overwhelmed, whilst those with decades of experience can still pick up new skills to improve their work.

In May, the ISA is holding two days of practical arboriculture at Capel Manor, and CAS is running technical seminars as part of this.  Jon has agreed to host one short seminar on Friday 2nd May on top tips, followed by his one day seminar on Saturday 3rd May.  This will be an excellent opportunity for those developing their skills to gain an insight in to improving their work.  It may not be one-on-one, but for me, it is a pretty good way to learn.  I attended the first seminar back in 2010, and I know how my work has developed since then.

Anyone interested in attending can visit www.consultingarboristsociety.com for details or send me an e-mail (mark@ consultingarboristsociety.com).