An interview with Paul Frainer, Senior Arboricultural Consultant

by | Jul 15, 2015 | Features, People

Pro Arb visited the offices of Essex County Council to meet senior arboricultural consultant Paul Frainer.Paul runs a team of eight arboriculturists in ECC’s Place Services team. Place Services provides specialist environmental consultancy services across south east England to public, third and private sector clients.

How did you get into arboriculture?
I started my career working for landscape gardeners at 17. They diversified into tree surgery and it looked fun so I thought I’d get involved. I went off and completed my chainsaw and climbing tickets and started working for tree surgery companies across north west London. I worked on local authority trees in London and on private contracts, eventually moving up to supervisor and contract manager. After a year or so as a contract manager I felt I should explore other parts of the industry and having completed my technicians certificate in arboriculture at Merrist Wood felt that consultancy would be a really interesting focus. I got a position at Jacobs Engineering in Kent and started an online degree at the same time. Needing some local authority experience, I went back as a tree officer at the London Borough of Barnet then came to this position at Essex County Council three years ago. It’s very much an amalgamation of local authority and private sector consultancy, so it makes a happy medium.

So you chose local authority work as that’s what you enjoyed as you developed?
Not necessarily. Local government is a pretty big stakeholder in arboriculture so I felt that’s where I needed to get experience, but it was always about enjoying the role. I never thought to myself this is where I want to work. I wanted to enjoy the role and put something into trees. You develop a passion for trees and it grows as you go along.

So what does Essex County Council do in terms of tree work?
It’s a county council, so slightly different to a district or borough council. Place Services is a trading account so we
effectively make our own money and cover our own costs. Place Services doesn’t just facilitate Essex. We consult internally to all of the Essex stakeholders, for example highways, schools and public parks, but we also sell our services outside. We have contracts with a number of other districts and boroughs including the London Borough of Hackney and we are contractors for the Forestry Commission. We also trade with private sector and third sector clients.

What’s the structure of the team?
Emma Woods is the head of Place Services, which is a leading provider of integrated environmental assessment, planning, design and management services. It is a traded service of Essex County Council. We have two senior managers, responsible for the natural environment and the built environment respectively. Under that you’ve got arb, ecology, landscape, SEA (Strategic Environmental Assessment), urban design, public art, historic buildings and historic environment. The arb team is the biggest team, with eight consultants including myself. We’ve got four in the ecology team, one landscape architect, a senior urban designer plus a junior urban designer. We also have planners, archaeologists and historic building specialists. We all work within the environmental disciplines and do a lot of inter-disciplinary work. Arboriculture crosses into most of these in one way or other. Personally I am particularly interested in integrating green infrastructure into strategic development and urban planning as this is key for the future of our industry. With Essex we are heavily involved in highway improvement schemes and town centre redevelopments. Another exciting project we manage is the Essex Woodland Project, which we are into the second year of now and we are right in the middle of our application to enter the new countryside steward scheme.

Paul Frainer

Is that something you have championed from the start?
I’ve always had an interest in woodlands. It’s so important that local authority woodlands are well managed and set examples of good practice to other major landowners. The thing that attracted me to Essex was its plans for its woodlands. We’ve been heavily involved since I’ve been here making sure that has carried on and we continue to gain funding to help manage those woodlands through grant schemes and environmental stewardship.

Do you get a lot of community engagement?
We are still quite early into the management plan. We have just started to look at year two. The English Woodlands Grant Scheme is finishing this year and these grants as well as environmental stewardship schemes will be superseded by the new Countryside Stewardship Scheme over the coming years. So we are working out how we fit
into that system.

Do you work closely with clients to come up with planting schemes?
With highways schemes and development we are usually involved right from the design stage so we look at the constraints of the site and whether there needs to be mitigation through the construction of the scheme. It’s very multidisciplinary at that stage, with the architects, developers, landscape architects, highway engineers and us as the tree experts all involved. It is vital that green infrastructure is well planned and integrated and we need to get the right trees in the right place. It’s a very important part of the way the industry is moving.

Do you think the public’s knowledge and understanding of trees has increased?
I think we need to do better to promote an understanding of the benefits of trees. People know about the environmental benefits of trees, but they want something that can be quantified. In my opinion the UK has been slow in the past to think outside of the box and explore new ways of working in terms of arboriculture, and in the grand scheme of things arb is still a pretty new industry. I think we are moving in the right direction in terms of quantifying the environmental, social and economic benefits of trees and communicating this effectively to the general public. It’s down to us as an industry to demonstrate innovation and engage with other stakeholders and related industries. Going to seminars, I’ve seen lots of engineers and architects and lots of different industries being involved. We need to do the same and not just speak at arb seminars, but speak at highway seminars and at RIBA seminars. Although it is a small industry, most councils still have tree officers whereas they may have lost other landscape officers. The arboricultural team here at Place Services is still the biggest team of all the disciplines.
Even though it’s a small industry, it is vital. I think it is down to us to promote the industry to the general public.

Do you get involved with the associations?
Yes absolutely. I’m a chartered arboriculturalist. All of my team are members of the Arb Association or the Institute of Chartered Foresters on some level and we actively encourage that. It’s important we are joined up as an industry. I’m a big believer in networking and that having more people around you is a massive benefit. There are always going to be differences of opinion but it’s important that we can comfortably manage that.

Do you think there is an age issue within the industry in regards to consultants?
I’ve not encountered it but I think people expect me to be older than I am when I speak to them. Prior to moving into consultancy I was told there was an ethos around age in terms of experience within the sector, but I’ve never really seen that – although I am pretty thick skinned! Experience counts for a lot and I’m a strong believer in that, but people are keen to learn and there is a strong climate of education within the industry now. Centres of excellence such as Myerscough College offer extensive and varied qualifications for arboriculture degree programmes and that
will start you off well in the industry. You may feel that it’s worth going to get hands on practical experience, and of course it will be beneficial, but I think it’s a misconception to say everyone should go through a certain route to consultancy or be of a certain age. If you go out and get qualified to a decent level, there can be no argument with regards to your potential ability.

What are your responsibilities at Place Services?
I look after the arb team and have operational management responsibility for all of our contracts. I have multiple projects that I manage but I delegate some of these across our team. We have a lot of cross disciplinary liaison with the other facets within the organisation. I contract manage on behalf of our clients and undertake community engagement when it comes to tricky or slightly sensitive schemes. I am also responsible for CPD, training and mentoring new members coming in to the team. We have a career progression scheme which we have just implemented too, so we have junior consultants coming through graduate programmes. I’m also an account manager for many of our arboriculture clients.

Do you take on apprentices?
Yes, we have looked at a few graduate schemes. I spoke with Myerscough last year but we haven’t implemented it yet. This is something we are keen to bring in. If you come into the organisation at junior level, you can see a clear progression up to principal level. Not only is it a great incentive to come to work here, but it helps us grow organically. That way we can promote people who understand how we work.

What challenges do you face?
The public sector is constantly changing. I think internally the changes are sometimes viewed as negative, but there is a lot of positivity that has been overlooked. Place Services is a product of that, really. The county council has thought about how it can improve service delivery and ensure business continuity whilst meeting any economic targets or savings across the organisation. We are pretty innovative here and rise to the challenge of trying new ways of working. We have developed our communications strategy as well and can be followed on twitter @placeservices so you can keep up to date with all our projects. In terms of environmental challenges, we face a lot. We are part of the Forestry Commission’s Plant Health Framework. This has really opened our eyes in terms of how we face pests and diseases in the UK. In the east of England the most high profile issue at present is Chalara dieback of ash. It gets us thinking about how we can be robust with our planting. It really encourages people to think outside the box.

Paul Frainer

What do you enjoy outside of work?
I have a young family that takes up lots of my time. I’m really into sport, I’m an Arsenal fan and I get involved with coaching my son’s football team. I’m about to embark on some more higher education this September, too. I also play guitar in a band and have done for 15 years now. Back when we were 17 we were looking to make that our career but now in our mid-thirties we are looking to get together of an evening, have a bit of time out from the family and maybe have a beer after!

Place Services,
Essex County Council,
County Hall, Chelmsford,
Essex, CM1 1QH
Tel: 03330 136 840
Twitter: @placesservices