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Paul Collins – kindness, wit and wisdom

Author:  Simon Richmond
Last Updated:  28/05/2020

Simon Richmond, Senior Technical Officer

Paul Collins

We were saddened to hear of the passing of Paul Collins, who died on 14 March. We have collated below a selection of contributions from some of those who had the pleasure to work with him over the years – not so much an obituary as a collection of accolades.

I have known Paul since the 1990s and always enjoyed his company and, as you’ll read below, his sense of calm and his intelligent wit. He was an active member of the Association’s Education and Training Committee for many years, until his ill health finally prevented him from continuing. As you will see below, he was dearly loved and deeply admired by many – we are sorry to have had to reduce the excerpts here in order to fit them all in.

Anne Fuller: I began working for Paul in 1986 at the Sussex Parks Training Group. We provided intensive training for employees from 12 local authorities in anything from green keeping to basic man management, first aid and chainsaw use. Paul could turn his hand to anything but his passion was always tree work. The great storm of 1987 saw us wiping our winter timetable clean and filling it with nothing but chainsaw training. Initially we helped to clear the many blocked roads in Brighton. We rescued chainsaw after chainsaw with their bars pinched and suggested the owners might like to come and do a course with us, not appreciating at the time that we would be inundated! Never before or since have I had so much fun as when working with this gentle, kind man.

Kevin Warwick: Having worked with Paul at Plumpton College from 1997 until 2010, I watched the forestry and arb teaching at the college develop and the real marker of this growth, for me, was the Weald Wood Fair. I attended my first one in 1997 with Paul and my last as a representative of Plumpton College was in 2009; I noticed an interesting trend. Over the years more and more of the displays and exhibitors were somehow linked to training, education and guidance provided either directly by Paul or under his management and direction. By 2009, it was clear that students taught by Paul, and his Forestry and Arb team, were now an integral and significant force within the industry and I think this is a wonderful legacy for him. For me, it was a pleasure and a privilege to have been able to work with Paul for so long.

Robin Jackson: I met Paul when I joined the Plumpton College teaching team in 1999. Back then he was the programme leader for the National Diploma, and he and his students were always to be found driving the lanes of East Sussex, either going to or coming from a tree job. Through Paul’s vast network of contacts, his students gained enviable opportunities, including one legendary minibus trip to the APF Show when it was held in Lockerbie. Wherever there was an opportunity to promote training and education, Paul could be found. For many years he ran the RFS cert arb evening classes: every week someone tried to catch him out with a strange specimen, and every week they failed. His interest in trees was infectious. Paul and I were reunited several years after I left Plumpton, when as Chair, I was looking for someone with current knowledge of a college environment to join the AA’s Education and Training Committee. Paul was the first person I thought about. To his credit he didn’t hesitate in joining as a co-opted member. He made a real positive contribution to E&T and for that I owe Paul my thanks.

Paul meeting the Duchess of Cornwall

Paul meeting the Duchess of Cornwall

Hugh Morris: Paul was head of the Department of Forestry and Arboriculture and my boss while I taught at Plumpton between 2010 and 2013. Paul was an excellent teacher especially in Further Education and had a way with young people, inspiring so many that now flourish in the arboriculture and forestry industries worldwide. We will all remember Paul for his good nature, his love of Mrs Brown’s Boys and his huge passion for trees!

David Kavanagh-Spall: By 2016 Paul had moved on from his long and distinguished career at Plumpton and was establishing his own arboricultural consultancy, providing a general service but particularly in education, looking at arboricultural exam criteria and as a Moderator for City & Guilds. My own company, Arborweald Environmental Planning Consultancy, was well established by then and I started to subcontract local planning authority work to Paul. Where I had attacked a significant LPA task with noise and gusto, Paul calmly smiled and with little fuss devised a greatly improved and more efficient format, particularly for dealing with tree work applications. Paul was fun, wise and efficient to work with and we made a great team. He began working full time for Arborweald in April 2017 as our Principal Consultant and was immediately an asset to the company. For the last three years I have spoken with Paul, more or less, on a daily basis. I shall so miss the sense of calm he brought and that daily communication of wit and wisdom.

Alex Livingstone: I worked with Paul after successfully applying for a lecturing position at Plumpton in 2012. He was simply a great boss without feeling like one. Then a couple of years ago I joined Arborweald and worked closely with Paul on many jobs. Spending time with him and being able to again learn from this true heavyweight of the industry was a joy. I feel enormously privileged to have been working with Paul right up until the end, a true testament to his fortitude: David and I still cannot believe how tough he was. Clichés abound in statements like this but it is hard not to use them: he was truly a legend, and one of the best people I have ever had the privilege to know. I will miss him greatly.

Chris Hannington, Team Leader Landscape and Arboriculture, Wokingham Borough Council: Paul worked diligently as a consultant for Wokingham Borough Council for two years up to March 2018. From the get-go it was clear that he was a man who loved his trees and was immensely knowledgeable – ‘a man out standing in my field’ as he said to me more than once. Paul liked a joke. We all liked to joke with Paul. Many of Paul’s cases at Wokingham stand out as excellent and all his decisions had a firm factual basis, drawing on his wealth of knowledge. We remember a cheerful and helpful man, much loved by colleagues who became friends for, as it turned out, far too short a time. Paul admitted to being ‘a bit churchy’, which I believe was an understatement. He appeared to be at least as committed to his God and his fellow church folk as he was to his trees. As someone who is also ‘a bit churchy’, I send my love and prayers to Heather, Mark and Lawrence, a family every member of whom Paul clearly loved and cherished.

This article was taken form Issue 189 Summer 2020 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.