What can arborists learn from the new, revised edition of the first Barcham manual?

REGULAR readers of these columns will no doubt be familiar with the number of occasions I have written about young trees and young tree planting. Not all of these articles have been complimentary to practitioners and, more often than not, have been critical, posing questions related to the poor quality of young trees planted into the landscape and the competence of those charged with actually carrying out the planting. It is arguable that many of the points raised have been unfairly or disproportionately emphasised, but it remains true that whatever your starting position it is likely you will find an example of a badly planted or maintained young tree within 80–100 metres of your starting point.

There have been regular contributions which have commented on what can be identified as a performance gap and the question raised as to why, with all the copious amounts of best practice guidance in the public domain, the standard of tree planting in our landscapes remains poor. Some may contest this, but the occasional success story cannot change a scenario where it is easy to find and photograph badly planted trees but really difficult to do the same for really well planted and maintained trees. Try it and see.

It is also easy to sit in an ivory tower of theory and prognosticate about the failings of others without trying to make sensible and useful interventions. Such is the story behind the Barcham manuals. There have been four produced so far covering specifications, planting, species selection and tree diversity. Admittedly they represent yet more written material and arguably more theory to the existing word volume already out there swilling about and not read, yet they have been designed to be easy to read, are summaries of best practice with theoretical explanations kept to an essential minimum and – perhaps best of all – are free of charge.

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The first of the manuals was about specifying trees from the nursery and has resulted in several thousand being distributed into the marketplace. However, time moves on, and this manual was in need of revision. This has been done and it is now available in its revised form.

There have been many changes, although it is surprising how constant the base principles of specifying trees from the nursery have remained with a timeline which goes back to the mid 1960s and possibly before. As a tree nursery, Barcham is on the receiving end of specifications from potential clients and it is still amazing how poor many of these are, with obvious gaps in the understanding of how young trees are produced, how to specify good quality and what things can actually be specified.

The revised manual explains why and how different stages of young tree production are carried out at the nursery and the implications that different production systems have with regard to transplanting success. The three principle methods of young tree production – bare root, rootballed and containerised – are explained and there is a synopsis of what constitutes a healthy and well-developed young tree above ground.

The question of biosecurity is addressed with recommendations as to what can be specified and how those procuring young trees can be as assured as far as is possible that the trees they are buying are not adding to the biosecurity threat which currently hangs like the sword of Damocles above us all.

The manual is illustrated throughout, with diagrams and photographs exemplifying the points made in the text. There is a comprehensive glossary explaining the terminology used throughout and examples of numeric relationships which can be specified. Perhaps the most significant change is the inclusion of what could be described as a ‘model specification’, including items which should be specified and items which might be specified.

As with best practice guides there are no doubt elements which some will disagree with and other elements which might be contested, such as the inclusion of shelf life as a specifiable item or the suggested inclusion of physiological testing of trees on the nursery during production to provide assurance that trees supplied to the end user are in optimum physiological health before they reach the landscape. 

As with other manuals in the series, they are pocket-sized and easy to carry from site to site. Hopefully the series will be easy to read and clear.

Certainly, in preparation, the relationship between the supplier and the customer was considered with a particular focus on the information the tree nursery needs to be in possession of to meet the expectations of the customer. The more information the nursery has, the more likely it is these expectations will be met and the fewer the opportunities for disagreement and conflict at the most sensitive time, which is when the trees arrive at the landscape to be planted and there is a pressure to get the trees in the ground.

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It is not suggested that this manual or indeed the other three in the series will solve all problems or immediately close the previously identified ‘performance gap’, but if the contents are followed there can be some certainty that the trees received from the nursery will meet the requirements of the customer and that the young trees to be planted are in the best possible condition, of the size and species required, in optimal physiological health and ready to meet the challenges to be found in the landscape particularly the demanding urban landscape.

Good specifications will not redress poor planting or lack of care at the planting site. They will not redress the problems associated with inadequate post-planting management and maintenance but at least one of the stages of the ‘performance gap’ will have been addressed to some extent. 

The manuals are available on request from info@barchamtrees.co.uk or can be downloaded from www.barchampro.co.uk. Any feedback on the manual and suggestions as to which future manuals might be considered useful would be welcome.