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Recent instructions

First, I am very pleased to have been invited to work with another, on an ad hoc basis: very interesting to see how other people address the same issues that I try to deal with for my clients.

Secondly, I return to my alma mater for a short period as Interim Tree Officer: the incumbent is deservedly moving on and moving north and I wish him and his family every success.   Hopefully my hand on the tiller will require only a light touch for a few weeks until the position can be permanently filled.

Five Day Notice

In my role as Tree Officer in the Planning Department of Warwick District Council I occasionally get the opportunity to review urgent requests from tree contractors to fell a protected tree that has become, in their opinion, a bit of a risk, i.e. a 5DN.

If the tree is the subject of a TPO then to satisfy the requirements for a 5DN under Regulation 14 of The Town and Country Planning (Tree Preservation) (England) Regulations 2012 the tree must either be dead or it must present an immediate risk of serious harm, and the only works that can be undertaken are “works urgently necessary to remove an immediate risk of serious harm, as soon as practicable after the works become necessary”.

If the 5DN is accepted, and having abated the immediate threat, a routine application for consent to carry out works would then be required and it would be processed in the normal way.

The fun starts if the 5DN is not accepted and all sorts of hoops must be leapt through, but that’s another story.

Toy Story?

                                                                                         

I was on site the other day with a colleague and we felt a bit like Woody and Buzz when they look out of Andy’s house at the scene of horror in Sid’s garden – damaged and re-constructed toys littering the ground!

Almost every tree that we looked at was in some way defective, but it was difficult to imagine what might have caused the defects, it certainly didn’t appear to be grazing damage but appeared to be more deliberate – scars on one side of the stem only, immature ash pollarded at about 1.2 m, collapsed lime coppice thanks to Kretzschmaria deusta.   Looks like a job for the site clearance boys!

Topping is bad …

There is a commonly held, but largely unfounded fear, that “the tree is too tall”.

BS3998:2010 Tree work: recommendations states:

Trees are dynamic, continually self-optimizing organisms, i.e. each year, by producing new shoots, roots and radial increments of wood and bark, they maintain both their physiological functions and their structural integrity.   Thus, the often massive structure of a mature tree above ground, consisting of the stem, branches, twigs and the attached foliage, is highly efficient in intercepting, using and storing solar energy, while also bearing its own weight and dissipating the potentially damaging forces of the wind.   Below ground, although far less obvious, the extensive root system is equally efficient both in providing anchorage and in pervading the soil in order to absorb the water and mineral nutrients that are essential for survival, growth, flowering and fruiting.

So, trees will grow as tall and as wide as the local conditions will allow (and not always as tall as suggested in the guide books), the size of the tree’s canopy should not be a cause for concern on its own.

Limiting factors to tree growth include:

  • the volume of soil available,
  • the quality of the available soil – including its chemical composition, the availability of water and oxygen in the soil that may be exploited by the tree’s roots, the security of the tree’s “anchor” in the ground,
  • the local climate – not too hot or too cold, the right amount of rainfall at the right time of year,
  • the available sunlight – the right amount at the right time of day and of year,
  • exposure – which may be quite extreme in an urban setting,
  • local pollution – which may be quite extreme in an urban setting.

The practice of reducing the size of a tree by cutting a tree’s branches down to a lower height, known as topping, has long been widely regarded as an unacceptable response to the concern that the tree is too tall for a number of reasons:

  1. the practice often removes a large proportion of a tree’s crown and leaf area in one operation and so will seriously weaken the tree by reducing its ability to produce chemical defences, for example by hindering the production of energy through photosynthesis,
  2. the pruning wounds created by topping seldom heal properly, and so the tree’s inner tissues are exposed to the risk of disease and insect pests,
  3. post-topping, to compensate for the loss of leaf area, trees will often respond by putting out a profusion of dense, upright shoots from the cut wound surface; a tree with insufficient stored energy reserves may die as a consequence,
  4. additionally, this new growth sprouts from latent buds located just below the bark and concentrated around the cut wounds; these shoots are only weakly attached to the wood from which they have emerged and very prone to breaking off, particularly in high winds. Topping may therefore create a hazardous situation at a significant height that cannot be easily inspected or managed, and serious injury or damage to property may occur as a consequence of branch union failure; rather than reducing the perceived danger of a tree that is too tall, topping is likely to make a tree a greater risk,
  5. topping destroys the natural form and grace of a tree forever; the tree will never recover its natural habit and so will appear disfigured and mutilated, especially when it is without leaves during the winter,
  6. a topped tree, should it survive, will often quickly grow back to its original height and with a denser crown than before it was pruned. In other words, topping in the long term, is unlikely to have the desired effect of reducing the size of a tree.   Moreover, the tree is likely to need pruning again when, within a few years, it regains or surpasses its old size, or its new branches break or become a hazard.

The unfounded fear that the tree is too tall should not result in any pruning work because such action will create long-term problems, will leave the tree looking unsightly and anyway is unlikely to have the desired effect.   The only realistic arboricultural solution if a tree has genuinely become too tall for its location is to remove the tree altogether.

Client-ready data

Building on the ideas behind “define, design, deliver” I successfully introduced my team, when I had such a thing, to the concept that the data we were being paid to produce had to be ready for immediate use or consumption by our client.

Inventory tree surveys

In the context of the inventory survey we had to be aware of how our client wanted to use and manage the data

  • was it to be jealously guarded by a tree officer on dedicated licensed software that only the tree team knew how to access, or
  • was it for wider enterprise-use on much more generic asset management software?

The end-use often helped to determine the design of the survey,

  • what level of precision was required when locating trees, was near enough good enough?
  • what degree of accuracy is required or appropriate?
  • how to record the asset, as a numbered dot on a photocopied page from the A-Z accompanied by a spreadsheet?
  • how to provide the information, as a bundle of paper or as a SHP file from a hand-held data logger?

Whilst we may have had professional misgivings at either end of the continuum (and indeed over what level of information our client required us to capture) it was not for us to argue, we were simply required to populate our client’s database in their preferred way.

One consequence that may not have been given enough thought in the past is that an inadequate survey would not give the client all the information that they required for them to understand the condition of their tree stock, and so to discharge their duty of care and manage their stock.   The surveyor may know every tree individually, especially if he is periodically re-engaged to carry out a re-survey, but the real risk for the client is that inadequate information is transferred leaving them vulnerable to liability claims.

Development site surveys

In general the output from a development site survey is required for use and manipulation by fellow professionals, and they use enterprise-wide asset management software tools such as AutoCAD and so if the survey is presented as the product of a dedicated tree management software package it is of no interest, and so of no value to the client.

The accompanying text

It is also important to consider the narrative that is written to explain what has been submitted when thinking about “client ready data”.   In his essay “Politics and the English Language” George Orwell set down a number of rules to guide the writer:

  1. never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print
  2. never use a long word where a short one will do
  3. if it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out
  4. never use the passive where you can use the active
  5. never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent
  6. break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous

I find it difficult to honour rule 4 at all times, and I suspect I have broken a number of the other rules in this short piece.   However, that does not mean they should be there to guide the author at all times.

In summary

How to summarise my experience?

Whilst I think that the proprietary tree management database packages are very competent I believe that they have limitations, not least of which is when considering accessibility and the sharing of data across a range of platforms.   If an IT geek tells you the “data transfer will be seamless” be prepared for trouble.   A difficulty with a tree management package for which you hold the only licence is that you become by default the manager of the tree stock that you have surveyed.

I am very much in favour of providing high volumes of information from inventory surveys as SHP files created using properly considered and designed survey schema.   Good quality, accurate and precise information can be uploaded to the client enterprise’s server and all the relevant professionals within the organisation will be able to use the management information provided by the competent arboricultural professional to make good quality management decisions.

My fifth anniversary

2016 has been the best year to date, turnover-wise, for Jonathan Hazell independent arboricultural consultancy: I was set up for the year by a chance enquiry to a fellow Tree Officer on how to deal with a particular issue, which resulted in four months’ local locum work, not always challenging but always enjoyable and very well paid.

Some existing strong relationships have been maintained – my regular column in ProARB magazine, giving advice to valued customers and friends over the phone in response to specific circumstances is always a pleasure, and being able to visit a wide range of development sites for other customers is always interesting: a couple of those sites even had trees on!

Other relationships have blossomed over the year, to our mutual benefit I hope.   One such, which again arose through serendipity, was to become the retained tree consultant at a nearby school which has always been a most entertaining challenge.   Another was to develop my relationship with an existing client and to increase the spread of work that I could deliver routinely on their behalf.

Highlights have included an address about tree protection to the members of a nearby district council’s Planning Committee, fortunately that followed my attendance at two very well delivered training days on the same topic!   Another unusual instruction has been to act as marriage broker for the owners of a successful arboricultural business as they look to withdraw and hand their legacy on to new owners.

As I have said before my role is to help my clients and so my work remains cyclical as I try to support my customers as they try to meet their deadlines, I’ve given up trying to manage the peaks but have learned to ride the troughs.   Some projects are closed out when my report is submitted (or more likely when my bill is paid), others have a considerable shelf-life – more swings and roundabouts.

I continue to offer independent arboricultural advice and with each passing year I hope my product improves, so, as this time last year, don’t hesitate to make contact and I will see if I will be able to help you with your enquiry.

My fourth anniversary

2104 – 15 was a good year in the fortunes of Jonathan Hazell independent arboricultural consultancy although the first two quarters of 2015 – 16 have been steady.   New clients have emerged, and some old friends have reappeared, I have also had the opportunity to pass prospects on to those who have been kind enough to support me in the past.

My work remains cyclical as I seek to help my clients meet their deadlines, I’ve given up trying to manage the peaks but have learned to ride the troughs!   Some projects are closed out when the ink is wet on my report, others have a considerable shelf-life – more swings and roundabouts.

Some diversity this year as I have assumed the arms-length role of Tree Officer – the position was difficult for the local planning authority to fill as the need was quite slight, perhaps only one day a week, but the professional requirement was for someone with suitable skills and experience to comment upon a range of enquiries.

Other roles have remained, writing a column for one of the trade magazines and a broad client base of developers, architects, local authorities, multi-site multi-service civil engineers, and loyal customers of good local tree care contractors.

I will continue to offer independent arboricultural advice and so, as this time last year, I reckon I will be able to help you with most enquiries.

My third anniversary

The end of 2104 had seen an upturn in the fortunes of Jonathan Hazell independent arboricultural consultancy – I was busy right up until Christmas Eve (although the question has to be asked – why Christmas Eve, what was Santa going to do with my work?)

What have I learnt in this year?

The key message that I have learnt, but not acted upon, this year is the cyclical nature of work, of feast and famine, or boom and bust.   What I need to get far better at is trying to flatten those peaks and troughs into a steady and manageable work flow.

This year has seen some welcome additions to my client base, developers, broad based architectural practices, local authorities, multi-site multi-service civil engineers, and loyal customers of good local tree care contractors.   I’ve also added to my skill set by offering a design service, by sharing what I know with students, and writing a column for one of the trade magazines.

Most of my work involves travel, the odd instruction is within 20 miles of home: I’ve often said that I don’t enjoy work, I only do it because I have to, so I have to make sure when I go to site I capture enough data or form a solid impression of what I’ve seen because I don’t want to have to go back!   If I record the wrong thing or fail to notice what is important for a client then I’ve given myself more work, and no extra fee!

I am still no further forward in using Facebook for business, I have abandoned Twitter, not even got a basic understanding of the Google+ offer (despite the absolute ubiquity of Google in every moment of our lives now), and accept that for me Tumblr or Pinterest cannot really help promote my niche business.

What are my ambitions?

Ideally UK plc will continue to develop in real terms and generate the need for the advice that a senior industry figure can sell, in whatever market place!

To learn how to reach out to those who don’t know what you do, that you even exist and yet they need your service in order to progress their own ambitions.

I will continue to offer independent arboricultural advice and so, as this time last year, I reckon I will be able to help you with most enquiries.

My second anniversary

A year ago I was celebrating a modestly successful first year of trading as an independent arboricultural consultant.   This year the picture is not quite so rosy, although maybe that’s the last few weeks dominating my perspective.

What have I learnt in this year?

There’s a slight variation on last year’s message, which was “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”; this year’s version is “beware Greeks bearing gifts”.   I was offered a substantial parcel of work which I readily accepted, but without a clear brief (another famous quote comes to mind, “A verbal contract isn’t worth the paper it’s written on”) and I now find myself embroiled in an argument with a (former!) client.   However, it’s all grist to the mill and good copy for my piece on the otherwise sterile subject of Contract Terms and Conditions for the Arboricultural Association’s Scottish Branch.

Smaller instructions closer to home have been a joy, and had the added benefit of coming to the favourable attention of the local planning authority’s officers with the net result that I appear on a Kafkaesque list (one that doesn’t exist but which is referred to if you follow me).

Marketing efforts have not been very effective – how to successfully exploit Facebook for business, what to make of Twitter, what does Google+ offer, how can Pinterest help promote a niche small business?    Difficult to prove a negative but I think the plethora of social media platforms help maintain a public profile.

I continue to enjoy a wide range of opportunities to work for individuals and organisations on projects that would never have come my way as an employee, and indeed the opportunity to pursue niche projects that any employer may have told their staff to shy away from (but watch out for those Greeks in the shadows!)

What are my ambitions?

Ideally UK plc will actually pick up and generate the need for the advice that a senior industry figure can sell, be that in development opportunities, quality assurance, or maybe teaching: as I intend to continue to operate as an arboricultural consultant I reckon I will be able to help you with most enquiries.

My first anniversary

A year ago I was released into the wild, a combination of factors that had their roots with my employer, and without doubt with me and my team, lead to my new way of life as an independent arboricultural consultant without a car, for the first time since I was 17.

What have I learnt in this year?

The absolute truth behind “you’ve got to have friends”, which, if you like, you can re-phrase as “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.   I have always tried throughout my professional career as I rose to high office (as an aside click through to http://tinyurl.com/bgphda) to treat people with dignity and respect (there will always be exceptions and if you are one then I’m sorry!) which may go some way to help explain why friends and acquaintances from the arboricultural community, and indeed the wider grounds maintenance community, have invested their faith, and to some extent their own reputation and political capital, in me in the past year and had the courage to believe that I could deliver on their behalf.

Another truism, to paraphrase a great friend “Whatever the question, marketing is the answer”.   I’ve tired to find the time to say something new and eye catching on the various social media platforms in the past twelve months – sometimes I’ve managed, other times not.   There is an awful lot of data available at the click of a mouse, and in my limited area I’ve tried to collate and present that as readable and reliable information.

“Be careful what you wish for” also comes to mind – the opportunity to work for some large organisations may well provide technical and professional satisfaction and good kudos for the c.v. or case studies but the war of attrition that has to be entered in order to get an invoice honoured is depressing at best.   In the past year the speediest payers have been individuals or small organisations (with one honourable exception, step forward Sarah!).

I have had opportunities to work for organisations on projects that would never have come my way as an employee, and indeed the opportunity to pursue niche projects that any employer may have told their staff to shy away from.

I have also had the opportunity to drop all the corporate form filling and meetings that were held, seemingly for the sake of process, rather than for any meaningful outcome.   Some of the discipline that became ingrained has been useful, but only some!

What have I earned this year?

About half of what I am used to, that is if my invoices are to be paid rather than simply used to play email tennis, but I’ve yet to resolve my tax burden with my accountant which may throw me a lifeline.

What are my ambitions?

Ideally UK plc will pick up and generate the need for senior figures to occupy high office once again, if so I will do my best to be ready.   Until that time I shall continue to operate as an independent arboricultural consultant, with considerable experience in the sector I reckon I should be able to help you with most enquiries.