Written by John Parker, LTOA
Article first appeared in the Arboricultural Association ARBMag
In June 2017 I was fortunate enough to attend the 20th annual European Forum on Urban Forestry (EFUF) in Barcelona, Catalonia, where I was representing the London Tree Officers Association (LTOA). I first encountered EFUF when I submitted an abstract for the 2016 event in Ljubljana about the work the LTOA was doing in relation to canker stain of plane (Ceratocystis platani). I had never participated in a conference outside of the UK before and wasn’t expecting to hear anything back from my submission, but – in a lesson to all those who think about having a go at this sort of thing, but don’t – to my delight it was accepted and I was invited to present.
It was therefore with some trepidation that in May last year I found myself in the magnificent surroundings of Ljubljana Castle, Slovenia, to speak at EFUF 2016 to an audience of arboriculturalists, urban foresters and academics from Europe and beyond. Much like at LTOA quarterly seminars or the National Tree Officer Conference, it can be a little intimidating to stand up and present your work to an audience of your peers, some of whom may be vastly more experienced than you. This feeling can be magnified in an unfamiliar environment under the watchful eye of not only the best in London or the best in the UK, but the best in Europe.
Anyway, I need not have been concerned. Those who have been involved with EFUF for a while describe it as a family, and I completely agree. An international family which unfortunately only gets to meet up properly once a year, but a family nonetheless. Much like the LTOA, EFUF brings together like-minded people who are passionate about trees, giving them space to share experiences and ideas; combining seminars and lectures with field trips and social events. It is an open, engaging, welcoming environment in which everyone is encouraged to participate with ideas whether it is their first or their twenty-first (as it will be for some, next year..) event. Lots of information about previous EFUF conferences can be found at www.efuforg.wordpress.com
After my Ljubljana experience I didn’t hesitate in submitting an abstract to the 2017 event in Barcelona which, to my great delight, was accepted. The title of this Forum was Urban forest boundaries: Within, between and beyond the city. This time I was presenting another piece of work on behalf of the LTOA, our new document Surface materials around trees in hard landscapes (free to download under ‘resources’ at www.ltoa.org.uk). It was a rather brief presentation, admittedly, courtesy of the innovative and high-intensity PechaKucha 20x20 format of twenty slides on automatic play for twenty seconds per slide. I’m not usually one for practicing my presentations but this one took a bit of getting right. A special mention should go to the team who were simultaneously translating everything into Spanish and Catalan – absolutely amazing.
One of the most interesting things about attending these international events for me has been the realisation that our colleagues working in tree management across the world face many of the same problems and experience many of the same issues as we do. Challenges such as biosecurity, tree safety and resident complaints; opportunities such as community engagement, innovations and analysis of ecosystem services. The issues are usually broadly the same, it is the ways that people find to deal with them that can differ greatly. Surface materials around trees in hard landscapes is a very good example of this, and is one of the many areas in which I think the UK has a lot to contribute to the international discussion.
EFUF was therefore the perfect place to launch this LTOA document, dealing as it does with a question which transcends arbitrary national borders and to a greater or lesser extent will affect anyone working with trees in an urban environment. How best to balance the requirements of the tree (permeability to air and water) with the requirements of the footway (robust and safe)? In every town or city in the world where there are street trees to be managed, some degree of thought will have to be given to how this is best achieved. It should also be remembered that this responsibility will not always fall to an Arboriculturist; to reflect this fact the LTOA consulted highway engineers, landscape architects and urban designers as part of the development of the document.
Luckily for me, my presentation was on the first day of the conference so I was able to concentrate on the other subjects covered over the rest of the Forum without feeling the pressure. EFUF is an eclectic mix of practitioners, scientists, managers, educators and academics, all getting together to exchange ideas, and each of these fields were well-represented over the three fantastic days in Catalonia. More than 60 speakers from at least 20 countries including Canada, Turkey, Finland, Romania and Portugal gave a fascinating series of presentations describing the huge range of work which is going on in our industry, outside of the international boundaries within which most of us are normally confined. The great selection of work featured within the poster exhibition throughout the conference must also be mentioned.
As well as the intensive programme of presentations, EFUF events give delegates the chance to see a bit of their surroundings through a selection of field trips. On the first day I enjoyed a guided tour of the Botanical Garden of Barcelona, seeing a huge number of trees and plants in the company of the most knowledgeable tour group I have ever had the pleasure to be a part of. Day two featured a trip to the Collserola National Park and a stunning view of Barcelona from the top of Collserola Tower, 288m aloft on top of Tibidabo hill. On the day after the conference those remaining delegates were treated to a guided tour of Barcelona, particularly appreciating the shade offered by the urban forest; a very direct and welcome lesson in ecosystem service delivery.
I have too many pleasant memories of EFUF 2017 to be able to describe them all here in detail, but will try to mention a few. The wonderful city of Barcelona itself, of course, and the great organisation and hospitality of our Catalan hosts; the welcome evening in the beautiful gardens of the Royal Palace of Pedralbes; hours of conversation and laughs with old friends and new; the Forum dinner featuring wine, singing and a 20th birthday cake for EFUF. On a personal note I was honoured to be awarded the title of European Young Urban Forester of the Year 2017, a reflection of the ever-increasing international profile of the LTOA as we promote the work of our members internationally.
A quick glance at the news today will reveal that many people around the world are seeking to burn bridges and build walls; attempting to cope with the future by looking to the past. As arboriculturalists and urban foresters I would hope that we know better. The problems we face transcend international borders; the assets we care for outlive international conflicts. EFUF is an organisation – a family – which demonstrates what can be achieved when we look beyond our borders and collaborate with friends and colleagues from all over the world. I see the same passion, knowledge and sense of community in EFUF as I have come to know so well in the LTOA, and I feel hugely fortunate that I am able to have such close involvement with both.
EFUF 2018 will be held next May in Helsinki and Vantaa, Finland. I would urge anyone with an interest in arboriculture or urban forestry to get involved - https://www.efuf2018.com/