3 Magic I’s for Tree Officers

Sharon Hosegood FICFor

Chartered Arboriculturist Sharon Hosegood FICFor a Fellow of the Institute, owner at Sharon Hosegood Associates Ltd, highlights a few of the obstacles that tree officers face and the importance of supporting each other.

“Money spent on trees and tree officers must be regarded as investment, not a cost.” – Associate member John Parker, Chair of  the London Tree Officers Association

In the late eighties, as a young tree officer, armed with attitude and huge shoulder pads, I stomped into the chief planning officer’s office and demanded to know why planning permission had been granted for houses in a wood protected area by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). The first I knew of it was when I drove by, stopped, and tried to caution the builders, but they laughed at me and showed me the planning permission.

In those days, and at that authority, consulting the tree officer was not in the culture. In six years, I don’t think I ever saw a report from an Arb consultant.

In the early noughties, and, in a different Local Planning Authority (LPA), things improved. Being consulted on planning applications was the norm, and enforcing tree protection on site was a part of the job. There was room for improvement, but we tree officers felt part of the planning team.

I became a consultant in 2005, kickstarted by the BS 5837 revision. I enjoy, and rely upon, the relationship with my peers in LPAs. Only occasionally do we disagree, but I find the debate useful in furthering the knowledge and application of arboriculture.

Two recent cases at our practice that disturbed me:

Case 1 a LPA has granted consent for a three-storey block 1.8m from a mature street tree and imposed a condition requiring details of how it will be retained. Appointed post-planning, we are seeking dialogue with the LPA who have refused to meet us to discuss. There was no arboricultural input, from either side, during the planning application stage.

Case 2 – a different LPA granted consent for demolition and construction of residential blocks and placed a condition for arboricultural method statements. However, the approved development is physically on top of all the trees, including mature healthy London planes and horse chestnuts growing within a park setting. This is in a progressive London Borough, yet the application was approved without an arboricultural impact assessment or survey. We were called in post planning to discharge an unenforceable condition.

I believe these decisions are the direct result of austerity in planning departments. A recent survey of tree officers by the Arboricultural Association¹ found that ‘83% of tree officers considered that the on-going austerity measures had adversely effected their ability to do their job well’ and that 72% experienced ‘reduced staff capacity and reduced functions’.

Be in no doubt that many tree officers are still able to provide a brilliant service, but our experience with some cases is raising alarm bells.

What can be done?

Inform the decision makers, colleagues and design team members of the critical role of tree officers and trees in general.  These results of the tree officer survey, and the benefits of trees, were taken to an All-Party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group in mid-July.  Is there anything you can do within your organisation to raise the profile of trees, such as an in-house CPD for planners? Having done over 30 of these, it is rewarding to pass on knowledge to people about how tree issues influence planning and how they can help.

Inspire each other by attending training events (such as the National Tree Officers Conference²) and being part of your local tree officers group. Recently Southampton City Council hosted a multiple tree officer group session to share good practice.

Imagine going back to the tree culture of 80s. No thanks. Let’s get together, support each other, be vocal, and determined. After all, our resource is indispensable.


¹ https://www.trees.org.uk/News-Blog/News/UK-Tree-Officer-Survey-shows-need-for-government-a

² The Institute is organising the 2017 National Tree Officers Conference, alongside the London Tree Officers Association and the Municipal Tree Officers Association. The conference will be held on 8 November in Telford.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Institute of Chartered Foresters. 

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