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

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Tree experts get on the mic

Author:  Adam Winson
Last Updated:  03/12/2019

A few of the team from AWA Tree Consultants travelled down to the Arboricultural Association Midlands Branch’s Seminar held in Staffordshire. It was an excellent day of high-end arboriculture, with presentations from Jeremy Barrell and Dr David Lonsdale – two leading expert witnesses in arboriculture.

Dr David Lonsdale (left) and Jeremy Barrell at Midlands Branch’s Seminar with Mick Boddy, branch chair.

Dr David Lonsdale (left) and Jeremy Barrell at Midlands Branch’s Seminar with Mick Boddy, branch chair.

The day began with an open forum to discuss tree risk management led by the audience. Questions fielded by Jeremy and David covered topics including:

  • ash dieback and tree risk
  • the requirement – or not – for brevity and caveats in tree risk reports
  • the pros and cons of various tree risk methodologies, with some well-known methods coming under criticism for being ‘fundamentally flawed’

Following this, Jeremy’s main presentation discussed the preliminary results of his findings after making a Freedom of Information request to all the UK highway authorities, asking for information on treefailure-related fatalities and injuries, tree risk management strategies, tree inspection protocols and training programmes. He also gave some practical examples of less-well-established tree hazards that he suggests, based on his experience, should be added to the list of more obvious defects and risks that arboricultural consultants are looking for during tree inspections and risk assessments. These included:

  • poplars and willows: the species are disproportionately involved in damage or injury cases
  • trees with severe crown imbalance
  • the danger of thinking occluded wounds are ‘sound’
  • root distribution, especially in relation to ditches and poorly draining soils
  • the over-emphasis on ‘size’: bigger does not always mean a greater risk in relation to defective branches and he highlighted the risk of harm from ‘smaller’ branches

There was then a fascinating talk from Vaibhav Raje who highlighted the state of arboriculture in India and tree risk management in Mumbai, detailing the unique constraints and exciting potential within the city.

After lunch, David stood up – to a warm round of applause – to give his presentation. He detailed his involvement in some of the most high-profile expert witness cases over the last couple of decades. Highlights included:

  • the procedure for inspecting trees as an expert
  • the training and competence of tree inspectors
  • strategies for managing tree risk, including ‘assume it will never happen’, ‘it must never happen’ and keeping risk ‘as low as reasonably practicable (ALARP)’
  • key issues that can decide the outcome of a court case
  • the risk of hindsight when dealing with the aftermath of a tree failure

This talk led to some more fascinating conversation between David and Jeremy covering issues including summer branch drop (in particular the tragic case of the cedar tree in the Kew inquest). It was when David and Jeremy went ‘off-script’ to discuss their differences of opinion (and areas of agreement) in relation to tree risk that led to some of the most interesting parts of the day.

The afternoon included a walk around the attractive grounds of the venue for a practical discussion on managing tree risk issues, with questions and answers to help clarify risk issues that were causing concern. Using real-world examples of defective trees was an excellent and enjoyable way to consolidate the arboricultural knowledge of the earlier part of the day.

It was an excellent day that sped by without a dull moment – a true test of how interesting and engaging the speakers were, and how well the event was organised.

Reproduced with the kind permission of Adam Winson from his blog at www.awatrees.com

This article was taken form Issue 187 Winter 2019 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.