JCP | January 2019

On December 4th 2018 the London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) held a record-breaking quarterly seminar. These events always attract a substantial audience from across the arboricultural industry but never before has there been 113 attendees plus a waiting list. This just goes to show the quality of output that the LTOA is able to deliver to its membership and the fact that the organisation is moving from strength to strength.

The seminar was hosted by the London Borough of Islington and iCo Green in the Islington Town Hall Council Chamber, and was kindly sponsored by SJA Trees. Each LTOA seminar tends to have an overall theme and this one was dominated by trees and the law with presentations about expert evidence and the recent Cavanagh v Witley Parish Council appeal. We were also extremely fortunate to enjoy an international presentation.

Proceedings were started by Barbara Milne, Chair of the LTOA, who welcomed attendees to the event and outlined what was to come. Thanks were given to our hosts and Simon Jones, our sponsor for the day, was invited to the stage to introduce SJA Trees. Simon spoke briefly to an assembled crowd of tree officers and managers, consultants, representatives from the nursery trade and colleagues from other industry organisations.

The first talk was from Stephanie Hall, a barrister with Francis Taylor Building. Stephanie has presented at LTOA events before and is always entertaining and informative, pulling no punches when it comes to highlighting how tree officers should be approaching legal matters. In this presentation Stephanie gave some tips about what tree officers need to think about when called to act as an expert witness, specifically when dealing with TPO and planning appeals.

Stephanie used a real case study throughout her talk. John Parker from the LTOA Executive Committee acted as a live expert witness and was given a light grilling to show delegates the kind of questions and answers which might arise in an appeal scenario and what kind of tactics a barrister might employ. This highlighted some of the typical pitfalls to avoid and skills to develop for an arboriculturist in this situation and was followed by a lively audience discussion.

Some key messages from Stephanie’s presentation are for expert witnesses to listen carefully, think before they speak, control the pace of the conversation, answer the question, stick to their area of expertise, qualify their answer beyond simple ‘yes/no’ responses, stay calm and don’t argue. Keep an eye out for the barrister carefully building the sides of the sheep pen and herding you into it – the best witnesses always have an escape plan!

Next up was a joint presentation from Gabriel Fay and Paul Davies of DWF LLP about Cavanagh v Witley Parish Council, a case relating to landowner liability for injuries caused by fallen tree which was alleged not to have been inspected properly. Gabriel and Paul were closely involved in the case and the appeal and in this fascinating presentation they talked delegates through some of their thoughts and potential implications of the ruling.

The tree in question was a mature lime adjacent to the A283 in Surrey, which failed due to weakened anchorage caused by extensive root decay. The tree owner operated a three year inspection cycle by a competent tree inspector. The judge decided that even an apparently healthy tree could fail within two years, so a three year inspection cycle is not adequate (although throughout the trial a three year inspection regime for roadside trees was accepted by both expert witnesses). It was found that a reasonable inspection regime would have been no less than every two years for this particular tree.

It is not possible to adequately summarise this case in this brief article; however this is a hugely important issue and you should familiarise yourself with the details. A good starting point for this is the National Tree Safety Group website www.ntsgroup.org.uk and the complete judgement of the appeal is available on the LTOA website www.ltoa.org.uk. The LTOA is hugely grateful to Paul and Gabriel for their invaluable insights into this case.

The final talk of the day was delivered by Paulus Mandibondibo from the University of Ottow Geissler in Jayapura, Papua. This is West Papua – the western half of the island of New Guinea which is shared with the independent nation of Papua New Guinea (occupying the eastern half of the island). Paulus had just arrived in the UK from Italy, where he and John Parker had jointly presented their project Green Cities for Papua at the World Forum on Urban Forestry.

Paulus explained that in his home country the concept of urban forestry is not really known and that urban trees are not planned or managed to any particular strategy or design. Many of the problems experienced in Papuan cities – such as flooding and high urban temperatures – might be alleviated with the application of urban forestry techniques. Paul described how Green Cities for Papua is seeking to address some of these issues.

All that then remained was for Barbara to wrap up the day and thank everyone for attending. Delegates then relocated to a local hostelry to continue discussions over a fine lunch and a few drinks. The event was a great success and delegate feedback was hugely positive. The quality of these seminars seems to improve every year, as evidenced by the ever-growing attendance. We’ll hopefully see you at the next one, in Richmond on January 5th 2019.

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Members can attend, for free, the LTOA meetings which are held four times a year and cover a wide range of tree related matters.

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