Future Arb – Let’s Move Up The Gears

“Saving our planet, lifting people out of poverty, advancing economic growth… these are one and the same fight. We must connect the dots between climate change, water scarcity, energy shortages, global health, food security and women’s empowerment. Solutions to one problem must be solutions for all.” Ban Ki-moon

What I want for 2019, in purely arboricultural terms, is a radical review of any and all approaches to evaluation of tree-supplied benefits within urban and suburban environments.

Before I go any further, I’m going to take a moment to colour-in my experience of suburban environments: as a humble tree practitioner, wrestling on a regular basis with the manifold and complex issues within Trees and Development, it’s commonplace for me to encounter sizeable developments on the ‘outskirts’ of town. Yes, even here in the far north of Scotland. Such concentrated expansions of the built environment often change tree-rich open countryside into dense residential sprawl and, due to the current urgent requirement to increase house-building, we can expect to see a lot more of them.

To be clear, the developers I work with build by the rules and employ good designers but the net effect of an under-performing interface between ecological imperatives and the goals of development, is the inevitable destruction and insufficient replacement of vital green space. In 2019 then, I would dearly like to see policy makers at national level, local authorities and the entire arboricultural realm roll up their sleeves and get under the bonnet on this issue.

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” John Muir

Fellow arboriculturalists – to get us all started, and off the back of over 20 years tree-assessment experience, I’d like to highlight something I think needs to change as quickly as possible. We have to zoom-out a bit to be able to see it, but it’s my contention that there’s currently too much emphasis on the close examination of individual trees, the search for flaws, structural imperfections, conditions that may constrain lifespans (many of them a perfectly natural part of a tree’s life experience) and on the nebulous and often subjective consideration of form. I would never, of course, assert that these things don’t matter, or that they should be dropped as key indicators of tree quality, nevermind as significant components of competent risk assessment, but I would like to see – in fact I think we’re getting to a point where this is a must – I would like to see the many benefits that trees and tree cover consistently confer reflected plainly in the nitty gritty of my assessment work. Great Minds of Arb, I’d like a structured assessment framework please, requiring me to place my individual tree(s) within a much broader economic, ecological and social context. Let’s get onto it. 🙂

It’s true that substantial efforts are being made to fight the prioritization imbalance with intelligently calculated formulas such as those offered by the iTree initiative https://www.itreetools.org/ and yet it seems attention to tree care, tree protection and tree planting are still undermined by short-term thinking and a failure to see resource allocation as money well spent. Why? Well I guess there are a number of important reasons, and one of these is surely that we’re in the kind of territory where some things simply have to be marked out as more important than money. We’re in the kind of territory where Public Policy needs to flex its muscles for the greater good. It’s my contention that, no matter how hard they work at it, and even armed with the revamped assessment tools I’m looking forward to, arboriculturalists alone can’t upgrade the importance of holding on to established tree cover, or the importance of urban trees and urban tree-planting, or the precious ecological role of green space between and amongst dwelling space.

Treewoman is ready to pop the bonnet

But pessimism does not have a place in the struggle toward positive change, does it? To make faster progress more efficiently we only have to move up the gears. We can do it. And it will work. Personally, I don’t have any doubt a radical rethink on Policy prompted by a totally fresh perspective from arboriculture would explosively catalyse a long overdue change in our collective point of view. It would however, require that thing…you know the one? That thing supposed to come from the top that so often lately seems to be hiding in a cupboard instead? Ah yes… Leadership. That’s it. 🙁

Management is doing things right; leadership is doing the right things.” Peter Drucker

2 thoughts on “Future Arb – Let’s Move Up The Gears

  1. Hi – I agree with a great deal of what you’ve said in that it’s inappropriate to look at the specific detail of the quality of form of individual trees but rather to protect areas where trees are growing within development sites in perpetuity. Most recently, these areas have been grouped and described as ‘Green Infrastructure’. However, just like an older description of ‘Public open space’, these areas can get hijacked by the less scrupulous development companies who continue to populate such areas with balancing facilities, underground service installation etc. This degrades the quality of the land around the retained trees. Similarly, it’s not so good to retain an outstanding individual tree in isolation.
    With land values as they are in the UK, the arbs are sometimes a lone voice arguing for effective space for their successful retention. This includes a sufficient volume of soil to maintain reasonable levels of soil micro-organisms. Green infrastructure seems to be the current descriptor to make sure this includes future-proofing!
    By the way – well done for raising the profile of women in arb (I’ve done my best to effect change but am now after 30 years am happier to observe!)

  2. Hi lesley – I was particularly struck by your observation on soil volumes and quality, something I think is so often not fully catered for when it comes to replanting. Thanks for getting in touch as another Woman in Arb, and for giving me some background on your own endeavours. I think it may be time we changed some of the language we use to help trees and green space succeed more often in becoming the priority elements of a healthy, people-friendly, climate-mediated environment.Best wishes 🙂

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