Neil Francis, head of arboriculture at Thomson Environmental Consultants, outlines the arborist's varied role in the planning and development process.

NO two days are the same in the world of arboriculture when you are working for a large environmental consultancy like Thomson Environmental Consultants. Work is varied and the team is involved in a wide range of projects ensuring that trees are protected during survey and building work.

Surveys form a large part of our work and tree surveys for sites are much more than just a quick tree measurement and health and safety check to make sure trees aren’t going to fall. They are an opportunity to discover more about the site, both in terms of trees but also the wider environment – living and built.

Forestry Journal: Neil Francis.Neil Francis.

Our number one priority is always to ensure that trees are protected when construction or development is being planned. On a typical day we might be undertaking tree risk surveys and advising on a number of different planning scenarios. Sometimes we see trees that are dead or dying and therefore a possible risk to the general public. Recording it within a survey makes the landowner aware that they have a responsibility to act accordingly, fulfilling their duty of care. We may also need to advise when trees have caused damage to hard surfaces like pavements or car parks. A common sight in urban situations is the deformation of hard surfaces, caused when roots from trees are not given sufficient growing space and end up distorting tarmac.

These issues demonstrate how important it is to plan trees for the future when implementing landscaping schemes.

Forestry Journal: Ash dieback resulting in 75 per cent crown death.Ash dieback resulting in 75 per cent crown death.

Occasionally during tree surveys we find evidence of mammalian activity, so we then work with qualified ecologists from within Thomson to identify important ecological features that may be worthy of further investigation. These features can be highlighted in any subsequent correspondence with the client to ensure that environmental compliance is achieved in any future development.

The majority of our days are spent on development sites, both pre-construction and during the actual works. Initially, we might be called upon to put together tree constraints plans, where we look at space maximisation on a development site while preserving trees. We might look at shading, space for future root and crown development and routes for underground services. Subsequently, we are asked to write arboricultural impact assessments (AIA) and arboricultural method statements (AMS), which identify trees that can be retained as part of the development and describe in detail the measures needed to ensure they are not damaged during the works.

We are asked to provide arboricultural supervision to verify that tree protection measures have been correctly adhered to and to oversee construction activities that might negatively impact on retained trees.

Forestry Journal: Tree roots uncovered using an air spade.Tree roots uncovered using an air spade.

In terms of our priorities as arb specialists, one recurring issue that has been occupying us for some time is ash dieback. Across the UK there are an estimated two billion ash trees, including seedlings and saplings. Ash dieback will lead to the decline and death of the majority of ash trees, with perhaps as many as 90 per cent being infected. Ash is the third most common tree in the UK and if you are a landowner with ash trees present, the likelihood is that your trees will be affected.

Proactive management of trees and their risks is much more cost-effective than reactive management. For example, we are able to use GPS-enabled toughpads and our own in-house Thomson Interactive Mapping (TIM) system to map trees accurately and record specific tree data. This is then made available to clients using a bespoke website, which is updated in real time during surveys. Photos can be linked to each data point and individual management plans for the trees uploaded.

The advice given by Forest Research is not to fell living ash trees unless there is a need due to public safety or for timber production. With no known cure, the hope is that some trees will show tolerance to the disease, perhaps as many as 10 per cent. These survivors will be valuable in research and will be the key to re-establishing the ash tree within our landscape.

As an arb specialist working as part of a wider ecology and environment team, my remit is wide and varied but at the heart of all the work that we do, preserving and protecting trees, and ensuring people’s safety, are always the priorities.