Tree officers and those managing the urban forest often have quite a tough time of things. They’re on the front line of arboriculture when the complaints come in, fending off the classic “I love trees, but..” correspondence and patiently explaining that there really is no council conspiracy to remove/retain a healthy/dangerous tree (delete as applicable).
Like all public servants in the current political and financial climate they live under the threat of cuts and redundancies, efficiencies and streamlining of services. Too often they face criticism from those in their own industry, with some quick to suggest that tree officers should be doing more, or doing it differently, or comparing their work unfavourably to some arboricultural utopia overseas. Apparently the trees, as well as the grass, are always greener on the other side.
And yet.. tree officers persist. They don’t do it for the glamour or for the gold (although obviously there is loads of both); they do it for the trees, and for the environmental, economic and social benefits they bring. They are local authority employees, working to maximise the ecosystem services that the urban forest delivers to their communities. They are so often the first point of contact between the general public and the industry. They develop, implement and monitor best practice. They are ideally-placed to be the first to spot new, or spreading, pests and diseases. They do a great job under circumstances that are far from ideal, and they deserve more respect, support and acknowledgement than they often receive. Like trees themselves, the value of tree officers is disproportionate to their cost.
Many organisations promote the importance of the urban forest. Whilst the LTOA obviously agrees with this, we differ slightly in that we believe that a healthy population of trees requires a healthy population of tree officers. We seek to help achieve this by promoting the work of our Members, by supporting them when needed and by developing their knowledge and skills through information sharing, quarterly seminars and high-quality industry publications. Perhaps even more importantly we provide a forum – whether in a council chamber or lecture theatre, on a field trip or in a pub – where our Members can share ideas and exchange information and experiences. We also work closely with our strong network of Associate Members who do so much to support the work of the LTOA. Collaboration and communication are key, and having strength in numbers doesn’t do any harm either.
A huge amount of work has been done by a lot of people over the past thirty years to make the LTOA what it is today, and I am delighted to have been given the opportunity to help continue that work through my election as Chair of the organisation in June 2016. Vice Chair Barbara Milne, Executive Officer Becky Porter the rest of the dedicated Executive Committee and I will continue to develop the LTOA, working to influence policy, promote best practice and strengthen our links with fellow professionals outside of London, across the whole of the UK and beyond. We have much to share with our international friends and colleagues, particularly those in Europe. Never has it been so important to demonstrate how successful and rewarding it can be engage with those beyond our borders, and as an industry I believe we have the opportunity to lead by example in doing just that.
We have an exciting year ahead. The LTOA have already coordinated a successful trip to Malmo, Sweden, and have presented our work surveying for Ceratocystis platani (plane wilt) at a tree and plant health conference at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and at the European Forum on Urban Forestry in Ljubljana, Slovenia. We attended a brilliant seminar in Padua, Italy, arranged by Treework Environmental Practice, and with the AA South East branch coordinated a study day to see the elms in Brighton. November will see the first National Tree Officer Conference, organised by the LTOA and our colleagues in the Municipal Tree Officers Association and facilitated by the Institute of Chartered Foresters. The common link through these few examples – and there are plenty more – is collaboration. All over the UK tree officers are facing the same difficulties; our best chance of overcoming these challenges is surely by recognising that we are stronger when we work together.
John Parker - July 2016
This article first appeared in the Autumn edition of the ARB Magazine, produced by the Arboricultural Association www.trees.org.uk