John Parker, Technical Director
The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has had a huge impact on the way in which our whole industry operates, including us here at the Arboricultural Association headquarters.
I am writing this towards the end of April: like many parts of the world, the UK is still in a form of lockdown and the government has confirmed that social distancing measures will remain in place for at least another two weeks. None of us knows what will happen after that, and I am certain that the situation will have changed drastically one way or another by the time you read this article. However, I want to give you a brief outline of what the Association has been doing for the last four weeks on top of all of the business-as-usual activities.
Fulfilling our responsibilities
Responding to a crisis of this nature is an unprecedented challenge for everyone. The Association has a wide range of responsibilities to its staff and employees, its members and the industry at large. The safety of our staff is of course paramount, and since 17 March we have all largely been working from home and having daily online meetings to ensure that we are all keeping in touch. In this respect business continues as normal insofar as it is possible to do so – as ever, I have been hugely impressed with the commitment and performance of the whole AA HQ team, who have all successfully adapted to the new ways of working and continue to deliver for our members.
The Association also has an important responsibility to our members, particularly when national government is producing mixed messages and there is a lack of clarify in official guidance. When the government’s position can be summed up as ‘everyone must absolutely stay at home, unless they need to go out’ confusion is inevitable, and a lot of our time in the early days and weeks was spent fielding calls and emails from members who wanted some reassurance or guidance one way or the other – could, and should, they continue to work? Answering this question is a considerable responsibility with consequences either way, and it is not something the AA has taken lightly.
The development of the Association’s Coronavirus guidance started with a position statement on 25 March, in which we committed to contact government seeking clarification for our members. On 26 March we wrote a letter to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. On 27 March we issued a practical guidance poster for those continuing to work on site, and on 2 April we received a reply to our letter from Defra Minister Zac Goldsmith. In light of this letter we then amended our position statement and issued an updated statement on 3 April. The position statements, letters and other guidance can all be found on our website.
Our advice to members has necessarily evolved as the situation has changed, but can be summed up in a relatively straightforward way. If you can work from home, then you should work from home. If you are unable to work from home then you must consider whether or not you have to go to site, and if you do then you must follow Public Health guidelines at all times. Each of us must weigh up the situation we face, balancing personal need with social responsibility. The Association is able to give guidance, but cannot always provide answers in the way that many of our members would like.
In addition to producing advice and engaging with government, the Association has a duty to deliver the kind of quality content that our members have come to expect, and as with everything else we have had to adapt quickly. Unfortunately, and in keeping with pretty much every other organisation, we have had to postpone many of our events and training courses. At the time of writing everything up until the end of July has been postponed, but this will of course be reviewed as we
move towards that time and I recommend checking our website for the latest updates.
Amenity Conference 2020
I am now also able to tell you that the 2020 AA Amenity Conference is unfortunately to be cancelled. This was an extremely difficult decision for us to make and is hugely disappointing for everyone. It is impossible to predict what the national situation will look like in the first week of September, but our feeling is that even if restrictions have been fully or partially lifted by then, it will still be extremely difficult to go ahead with this event in its ordinary format. We are still working on the details, but our intention is for the Trees and Society theme and all of the fantastic speakers which we have already confirmed to be transferred to Conference 2021. Plans are in development for a series of smaller replacement events to take the place of Conference this year, and we will be publicising information about these as soon as we possibly can.
Extending online content
We have already found ways of replacing some of the other events and training we have lost. Instead of ARB Show, we are holding a Virtual ARB Show featuring many of the exhibitors from 2019. In lieu of conferences and seminars we have repackaged some of the best AA Amenity Conference presentations from the last couple of years into a feature called ‘Tree of the Best’, available on YouTube. We have also produced brand new content, such as a lecture series by Dr Andrew Hirons which looks at the topic of applied tree biology. One of the most popular initiatives has been the Urban Tree World Cup, which started on 9 April and ran for a month – at the time of writing I don’t know which tree won! There are also many other projects in the pipeline including online training, new presentations and articles and a couple of features which are very exciting but which I won’t mention just in case they didn’t come off.
We have all been affected by Coronavirus to a greater or lesser degree, and there is an argument to say that nothing will ever quite be the same again. That remains to be seen, but for now I am pleased to be able to say that under difficult circumstances the Association has continued to support, educate and entertain our industry and that we are still delivering for our members. The changes which we have all had to cope with over the last few weeks have been vast, and the challenge considerable. Many of us will have suffered, emotionally, socially or financially. But we will get through it, and when we do the Association will still be there to support you and the whole arboricultural community.
As Ted Green advised me when I spoke to him at the start of all of this – ‘Think in tree time. See you on the other side.’
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.
Coronavirus – Help for Arborists Resources
A Coronavirus Risk Assessment, Working on Site Guidance Poster, On Site Safe Working Poster and other resources have been added to our FREE ‘Help for Arborists’ web area!
Download the Coronavirus Risk Assessment
Download the Site Guidance Poster
Help for Arborists Coronavirus Section