Get to Know Your Tree Officer!
GreenBlue Urban is a sponsor of the 2017 National Tree Officers Conference (NTOC).
The themes of the National Tree Officers Conference really got us thinking here at GreenBlue Urban (GBU) Head Quarters. How do we support, and in some respects, ‘market’ urban trees and their fantastic custodians, the Tree Officers? Working effectively with politicians and communities is something we are all passionate about but this is not always a walk in the tree lined park.
John Parker, President of the London Tree Officers Association address to politicians at an Arboricultural Association event earlier in the year, aimed at engaging MPs and members of the Lords, to consider the challenges we face if we are to secure the long-term health of our urban trees, highlighted some important problems. His plea that MPs ‘Get to know your local Tree Officer!’ couldn’t have been timelier.
Planning for Trees
If there were more understanding in central government that reforms to the planning system are desperately required to support the work of Tree Officers and to provide more accountability and clarity, the future really could be one in which our towns and cities enjoyed greater canopy cover than at the present time. Working closely with planners at GreenBlue Urban we often hear the complaint that because trees transect so many policy areas, it is hard to obtain that critical buy in from highways, development management and policy teams to come up with a truly coherent approach to urban trees. However, in the twenty-five years that GreenBlue Urban have been innovating and delivering projects across the UK, and globally, we have had the pleasure of working with tree officers and planners who, in spite of budgetary constraints, have delivered some truly fantastic schemes. It is not enough to produce elegant and innovative solutions that support trees above and below ground, we have to embed good practice and to disseminate knowledge beyond the conventional disciplines.
Green infrastructure is not adequately defined within the national planning policy framework and when we speak to those involved in planning there is agreement that there should be a government minister appointed with responsibility for green infrastructure. Indeed, a real role for urban trees and the wider palette of natural infrastructure components would be a useful step change but in the meantime how can we work together?
Local Plans and Supplementary Planning Document
We often see enthusiastic and dedicated Tree Officers who are working within the constraints of planning policy and highways guidance that make it difficult to secure the long-term maintenance of existing urban trees and to increase canopy cover. Of course, there is no one size fits all guide as to how this should be achieved. It is a fine balance of setting out a vision for retrofit, regeneration and new sites in local plans and detailed SPDs, as well as enforcing. Naturally, employing the right set of metrics to value the effectiveness of policy is a matter of choice.
Trees and Place Making
At GreenBlue Urban we have created a suite of products to enable local authorities and private sector clients to deliver more for less. One step at a time, local authorities can invest in small scale interventions to enhance the existing street scene. One offset tree pit can make all the difference. It should be easy to sell the idea of more trees and to argue that we should have more, rather than fewer, tree officers across the UK. Is there another investment other than urban trees that can simultaneously mitigate against climate change, increase biodiversity and become a powerful tool for urban designers and highways teams to transform places?
Is it Always About the cash?
What other nature based solution can so drastically reduce the amount of money and resources necessary to treat the plethora of physical and mental illnesses born from inhabiting obesogenic, unaesthetic and depressing environments?
How many investments, if managed effectively, can have such a significant lifespan and outlive their investors? If this were Dragons Den and a Tree Officer came asking for investment making those arguments, we’d all be saying “I’m in!”.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of GreenBlue Urban and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Chartered Foresters.