Tree officers are responsible for the protection, care and management of trees owned by local authorities – within parks and recreational spaces in towns and cities, in public woodland and at the side of roads. They are also responsible for the protection and preservation of trees on development sites within the planning process.
The Arboricultural Association recently completed a survey of UK tree officers. The aim of the survey was to assess the impact that local authority funding constraints are having on the standard of tree care and the day-to-day ability of tree officers to fulfil their roles.
There are 418 principal councils in the UK. Of the total 163 responses received from the survey, 83% of tree officers considered that the on-going austerity measures had adversely affected their ability to do their job well.
In terms of what was causing this negative impact, 72% felt that a combination of reduced staff capacity, and reduced support functions such as administration and enforcement, had the greatest effect.
Tree officers were also concerned that reduced budgets for training and continued professional development (CPD) were having a detrimental effect on their ability to carry out their work effectively.
As part of the survey we asked tree officers to provide us with a brief description of how the issue that affected their job the most had impacted on them personally. The AA was concerned by many of the responses received, which go beyond technical and professional compromises and encompass personal stress and well-being:
‘Used to be three members of our tree team. Now, just me – so I do all tree officer work and all admin functions.’
‘There are virtually no resources for CPD, meaning I have to fund my own CPD (Continuing Professional Development) …’
‘We are now so short staffed that I try and avoid making any new TPOs (Tree Preservation Orders) as we no longer have the capacity to spend time dealing with them …’
‘… I was expected to double up and provide advice to the Planning Department as well as my primary role of managing the council’s own tree stock. The main impact has been on my mental health.’
What is the Arboricultural Association planning to do with these findings?
The Association intends to use the full findings of the survey to inform its own strategy and to petition central and local government and associated organisations. We will make known the actual and potentially major negative consequences to our urban forest and the wider environment if the professional, impartial and essential expertise of tree officers continues to diminish.
In July 2017, we will campaign for MPs in our Parliamentary Group to take notice of the serious consequences of the diminished role of the tree officer. We will also run a social media campaign and submit articles to associated industry press. More free events for tree officers have been scheduled later in the year.
The Arboricultural Association is continually reviewing what we can do to support tree officers. Now we have the statistical data to prove what we have all known for some time, we can provide a voice and support for our members working in local authorities across the United Kingdom.