A personal view based on a truckload of experience in the field (in lots of fields actually…)
Interesting question. Probably a minefield. So the first thing to say is, it’s not me. Oh yes, I can and do contribute to design processes in pursuit of successful tree retention, and I don’t shrink from making informed recommendations but, as I’ve sat in my unusually sunny garden this morning, teasing this question out, it’s become very clear to me that it’s not my executive intervention that makes the most critical difference. Lol, as they say.
The Developer then, that shadowy he or she at the top of the project food-chain who (let’s say) has a vision and wishes to change a piece of land from one state to quite another in order to provide housing/infrastructure/commercial possibilities etc. Well The Developer certainly has an interest in removing trees and replacing them with something more economically significant. Yes, yes there’s a bigger argument attached to that sort of discussion but it’s more unweildy than a giant octopus so I’m not going to go there for the moment. Suffice to say, there are many, many cogent economic justifications for knocking the natural environment into 2nd place and building stuff. To be fair, many individual Developers are as aware of the need to protect and retain the natural environment as the next person but, nevertheless, when it comes down to getting something built, tree protection is a constraint on development and a distraction.
So. Local Councils then. It must be LAs who save the trees when development is going on all around us? Yes. At least, to a degree. A very welcome degree. Local environmental policies are so important when it comes to setting principles, benchmarks, parameters and goals. It’s rarely practical or affordable though, for LAs to dedicate An Official to monitor tree protection aims for a particular site from Consent through to final landscaping. LAs establish the parameters and set the goals – but what happens when, having done so, they move on to the next site, and the next, and their involvement becomes well, tenuous?
Ecologists are wonderful. I think so anyway. They often bring a fresh, very green perspective to the subject of imminent environmental change, including tree loss/protection. With their focus on supporting bio-diversity and richness of wildlife habitat they can get us all to zoom out and see a bigger picture. And what about Local People? It’s among Local People that the motivation to protect trees is most acutely felt, often with very effective results. The good people of Sheffield recently pulled out all the stops to force a rethink on the Council-proposed removal of hundreds of street trees. It’s very difficult to argue with assertions from local inhabitants that the trees populating their neighbourhoods contribute vitally to overall quality of life.
But still no. It’s not local people, wonderful as they are, who make the biggest day-to-day difference in my view.
No, my gold star goes to the many and various contractors charged with making things happen, within budget, on time, to required multiple standards, on construction sites. Whether progressing pre-commencement infrastructure works, undertaking demolition, renewing underground services or undertaking large-scale construction. The fact is, the most carefully regulated, thoughtfully designed, painstakingly negotiated tree protection planning in the world can be rendered pointless in seconds by a guy (or girl) in an excavator.
Personally, I would say there’s no such thing as too much effort when it comes to forging a productive working relationship with site contractors. When successfully recruited to tree-friendly objectives, I’ve found them solutions-orientated and extremely capable, especially when it comes to in-the-moment problem-solving. Yes, I’ve had experiences where site operatives have looked at me like I might be mad/trouble/ an indescribable tree-hugging nuisance, but in 23 years of practice I can honestly say that’s happened so rarely I don’t properly remember the details. Who knows? Maybe at the time I was behaving like an indescribable tree-hugging nuisance?
Many dedicated, purposeful professionals make an invaluable contribution to looking after our trees amid tumultuous development activity all over the country, and hats off to every single one of them. But to all the site engineers, site managers and construction workers I meet week-in-week-out, you should know that, in my estimation, your collaboration makes the biggest difference by miles.