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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Sharing knowledge, challenges, opportunities – and laughs!

Author:  Mark Buglioni
Last Updated:  04/12/2023
Conference 2023 Auditorium Conference 2023 Logo

Sarah Jackson, Training, Events and Fundraising Manager


This year’s Arboricultural Association 56th Annual Conference saw a slight move away from previous years’ formats and offered a packed two-day programme of presentations and interactive workshops covering a huge range of subjects. Topped and tailed by an opportunity to watch the UK & Ireland Tree Climbing Competition on Sunday and the field trip to Coombe Abbey on Wednesday, the conference days were busy, engaging and informative. There was also a lot of laughter!

Although this was not our first time at the University of Warwick, we were hosted in the new Oculus building with a spacious auditorium that accommodated one of our best-attended conferences. We have had some incredible feedback and we are looking forward to doing it all over again next year. I would like to thank our delegates for coming, our speakers for their engaging presentations, the team at Warwick for their professionalism, our trustees and volunteers for their unequivocal support, and the very special team here at the Association who worked tirelessly to ensure everything went smoothly.

Here is Assistant Technical Officer Mark Buglioni’s perspective on the event – enjoy!

Mark Buglioni writes…

The attendees shared knowledge, challenges, opportunities and laughs. Speakers communicated arboricultural expertise, challenging the agenda with groundbreaking new techniques and information. At times emotional, the discourse was varied, covering many topics. We were reminded of the importance of trees, the people who care for them, and how vital it is to unite our industry.

The main programme began on Monday morning, but delegates began to arrive at the university on the Sunday, bringing lots of enthusiasm to the campus. Some attended the UK and Ireland Tree Climbing Competition Master’s event, which you can read more about on pages 14–15. The weather was scorching but the competition was thrilling and competitive. Also on Sunday, a group of delegates joined us for the Henry Girling memorial tree planting. Senior Technical Officer, Simon Richmond, with generous support from David Johnson of Barcham Trees, prepared a Koelreuteria paniculata for the ceremonial planting.

By Monday morning the university’s Oculus building, home of the conference, was full of activity and busyness. Staff, delegates, exhibitors and speakers connected and reconnected with excitement. So many tree people in one place! Exhibitor stands had varied displays of information, equipment and resources, from field guides to resistographs. The Association’s book stand was busy too, with special interest in the groundbreaking new book Roots: A Field Guide for Identification written by Kristin Moldestad and Olve Lundetræ.

By 8.45 the lecture theatre began to fill. CEO John Parker kicked off the event, also premiering the Association’s energetic new video ‘What is Arboriculture?’, a highlight reel of arboricultural careers. The video left the crowd buzzing as the speakers began.

Conference 2023 Stella Bolam

Stella Bolam opening Monday’s second session.

Conference 2023 Emma Gilmartin

Emma Gilmartin

Conference 2023 Kristin Moldestad, Andrew Benson and Benoit de Reviers

Kristin Moldestad, Andrew Benson and Benoit de Reviers.

Day 1

The first Monday morning session hosted an internationally diverse group of speakers: urban tree ecophysiologist Andrew Benson from New Zealand, arboricultural consultant Benoit de Reviers from France, and consulting arborist Kristin Moldestad from Norway. The subjects were equally diverse. We listened to how utility pruning affected ecosystem services from Andrew, how cabling and bracing of trees deserves a new perspective from Benoit, and how roots can accurately be identified in the field from Kristin. All speakers engaged the crowd in the theatre while displaying new ways to think in the field. Throughout the conference, after each group of speakers finished their presentations, a Q&A session (with rather entertaining throwable microphones!) allowed the crowd to personally interact with the experts.

In the next Monday morning session, chaired by Association Trustee Stella Bolam, Greg Packman, an arboricultural officer and an expert on the Massaria disease of plane, showed the results of his surveying and new ideas on pruning affected trees. Richard Hauer, Professor of Forestry at the University of Wisconsin, then travelled the stage, animatedly explaining emerald ash borer planning and management in the US. To finish the session, Swedish arborist Jon Hartill challenged the group’s views on Meripilus and beech decay progression, spurring discussion and intrigue. Discussing health, disease and pests drew interest from delegates for the Q&A session, who shared their own challenges and opportunities in plant healthcare. This session led the programme into lunch, with time to chat about the presentations and refuel for the afternoon speakers.

To kick off Monday afternoon, the annual awards were presented. The Best Student Award, sponsored by Tree Life, was presented to Kinga Chudziak from Merrist Wood College. Her exceptional studies at Merrist Wood and her performance on work placement have her leading the class with distinction. The Young Arboricultural Professional Award, sponsored by Nicholsons, was presented to Cecily Withall, Climbing Arborist at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew. Cecily is the first female climbing arborist at Kew since 1980 and is making waves in the arboriculture scene after starting out four years ago. Thank you again to our award sponsors for their continuing support. Finally, the winner of the prestigious 2023 Arboricultural Association Award was long-time tree expert Chris Knapman. Chris’s significant contribution to the arboricultural industry includes over 30 years of work and volunteering for numerous organisations. You can read more about the winners’ achievements on pages 18–19.

Following the awards, session chair Jim Smith, Urban Forestry Advisor for the Forestry Commission, introduced the next two speakers. First, barrister and Association Trustee Elizabeth Nicholls spoke about Biodiversity Net Gain (BNG) and the implications it has for planning and development in the UK. Elizabeth covered many aspects of BNG, and highlighted some of the unknowns still present in the scheme. The audience was curious to learn more about Biodiversity Net Gain’s implementation in the Q&A session. Unfortunately, since conference, the UK government has delayed the implementation of the scheme, leaving many questions unanswered. Our final speaker of the day was Operations Director at Green Action Trust, Emilie Wadsworth, who discussed the Central Scotland Green Network. She highlighted successes, challenges and positive impacts of environmental planning.

An international panel discussion followed the speaker sessions on both days, chaired by Kevin Frediani, Curator of the Botanic Gardens at the University of Dundee, whose reflections on these sessions appear on page 43. On Monday, Paul Barber, Lee Mueller, Jon Hartill and Yana Bobrova, Executive Director of Peli Can Live, a Ukrainian nature preservation charity, examined challenges and opportunities in global arboriculture. We heard about the opportunities and challenges in the panel’s respective countries and contemplated ways in which we can share and connect to better the industry together. Yana’s concluding presentation was especially moving as she shared the immense difficulty that Ukrainians in the industry, and all Ukrainians, have to endure in the face of the war. She shared heartbreaking stories of arborists who have lost their lives in conflict. She also thanked those who have provided support and shared the opportunities to make change in Ukraine. Yana talked about the push for appreciation of trees and the drive for nature conservation despite the many challenges Ukraine faces. If you want to read more about the Association’s recent study trip to Ukraine with Yana Bobrova, you can check out the article in ARB Magazine issue 201.

The international panel demonstrated the importance of uniting the arboricultural industry and supporting each other locally and abroad and gave delegates with lots to reflect on as they left the theatre for the workshop sessions.

The same workshops ran on both Monday and Tuesday, to allow delegates to join a different session each day. Topics included: ‘Succession in arboriculture’ hosted by Michelle Ryan and Luke Fay, ‘Major Oak gallery guided tour’ hosted by Reg Harris, ‘Detection dogs in arboriculture’ hosted by Ivan Button and his friendly dog Sika, ‘Regulating works to trees: Can we simplify the law? Do we need it anyway?’ hosted by Charles Mynors, ‘Tree planting: more than just numbers’ hosted by Keith Sacre and Ben Coles, and the ‘Registered Consultants Scheme’ hosted by Simon Richmond, Martin Dobson, Paul Barton and Shane Lanigan, as well as a continuation of the international panel discussion in the lecture theatre.

The formal proceedings of the first day were followed by a further opportunity to meet with the exhibitors over a wine reception where the winner of this year’s Best Exhibitor Award was announced. Congratulations to Ian and Sue Barnes of Tree Diagnostics. Later that evening everyone came together for the main social event: the annual conference dinner.

Conference 2023 Exhibitors and networking between sessions

Exhibitors and networking between sessions.

Conference 2023 Ian and Sue Barnes of Tree Diagnostics receiving the Best Exhibitor Award from Tony Lane.

Ian and Sue Barnes of Tree Diagnostics receiving the Best Exhibitor Award from Tony Lane.

Day 2

In the wake of a successful first day, delegates returned to the Oculus building on a rainy Tuesday morning for another day of dialogue and discourse. There was a great atmosphere for the start of the programme.

Back in the lecture theatre, Michelle Ryan, Chair of the Trustees, welcomed the audience and the next group of speakers. Paul Barber from Australia, Director of Innovation and Technology at ArborFlight, opened the day by speaking on remote sensing and AI’s critical applications in relation to Biodiversity Net Gain. Next, Lee Mueller, Market Manager at Davey Resource Group Inc. in Michigan, USA, spoke about advances in tree inventory and monitoring technology. Paul and Lee both demonstrated the value of advancing technology in arboriculture for efficiency, new applications, and better management. Ending this session was arboricultural consultant Martin Dobson, who spoke on tree litigation cases and how to protect yourself as a tree professional. The audience listened intently to Martin’s experiences as an expert witness defending professionals and citizens in court.

The second Tuesday session was chaired by Association Trustee Keith Sacre and covered another diverse group of topics. Jill Butler, ancient Forest and wood pasture specialist, discussed special interest trees and their value in addressing the climate crisis and biodiversity loss. Delegates learned how environmentally and culturally significant one special tree can be. Jason Hasaka, Principal Consultant with Bartlett Tree Experts, then described recent work on re-propping the Allerton Oak in Liverpool. Jason and his team’s attention to detail was incredible, displaying the frontiers of ancient tree preservation. Finally for this session, Emma Gilmartin, Conservation Advisor at the Woodland Trust, continued the discussion on ancient trees and the importance of their preservation with summaries of three pieces of research that offer great opportunities for further development.

John Parker chaired the Tuesday afternoon speaker sessions, the final talks in the main programme. Kate Lewthwaite, Citizen Science Manager at the Woodland Trust, opened with a presentation about Nature’s Calendar – a citizen science project. She discussed the project’s recording of spring through natural signals and how they’ve changed over time, an incredibly important discourse for tree management in the face of climate change. Then, Louise Purnell and Cat Walker from Trees for Cities spoke about tree planting community events and building a connection to nature in the city. Finally, Jim Mullholland, Director of BATS Research and Training, toured the stage speaking about his research on bat roosting in trees. He showed some very entertaining footage captured using new camera techniques. He also presented some captivating results in his research that stirred the audience – a perfect ending to the speaker sessions.

Following the international panel and workshops, the second day in the Oculus was complete. Some of our delegates departed Warwick, while others stayed the night to join the Coombe Abbey field trip the next day.

After an action-packed two days of learning, there was so much to reflect on and the atmosphere throughout the conference was amazing.

Conference 2023 Charles Mynors in conversation with delegates.

Charles Mynors in conversation with delegates.

Conference 2023 Reg Harris’s Major Oak gallery.

Reg Harris’s Major Oak gallery.

Conference 2023 Coombe Abbey Park field trip.

Coombe Abbey Park field trip.

Coombe Abbey Field Trip

The field trip attendees enjoyed a beautiful bright sunny day; a final stroke of luck to cap off one of the best conferences yet.

Delegates enjoyed three separate walks through the superb Coombe Abbey Park, which was redesigned in the 1700s by Capability Brown. The walks were generously supported by volunteer speakers touring the groups. Ancient trees from the original landscape plan still tower in the fields, massive veteran beech trees line the pathways, and towering wellingtonias capture the essence of a Californian forest. Delegates learned the history of when trees were planted and the intentions behind the landscape plan. The site is also host to a Go Ape adventure park and part of the tour included a discussion about the benefits and challenges of installing, maintaining and managing such activity infrastructure while minimising damage and compaction.

Attending the field trip at an Arboricultural Association conference is a unique opportunity to not only see spectacular trees, but also apply and discuss all the knowledge shared during the programme in the previous two days. Many field trip attendees discussed popular conference topics such as fungi, tree risk management, root identification, urban forest management, ancient tree preservation, and more while touring the grounds and enjoying lunch. Walking through special trees, surrounded by a diversity of tree professionals, the field trip is one of the best opportunities to connect with others at conference.

As the delegates finished their tours and left the beautiful Coombe Abbey, the final chapter of the 2023 Arboricultural Association conference came to a close. Thank you to everyone who made this event so terrific!

This article was taken from Issue 203 Winter 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.