FOLLOWING the onset of the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak and subsequent lockdown announced on 23 March by the UK government, the Institute of Chartered Foresters created a survey to find out how its members were affected.

Focusing predominantly on working practices in the forestry and arb sectors, the survey was open from 9 to 20 April, with responses received from over 15 per cent of the ICF membership. Issues related to working remotely, restrictions around site visits and the general slowing of business emerged as the major concerns.

In total 269 members responded from across the UK. The majority of replies (70 per cent) were from paid employees, with 15 per cent from business owners and 15 per cent self-employed members. 42 per cent identified as forestry and woodland management specialists, 25 per cent worked in arboriculture, nine per cent in public policy and the remaining respondents were split between related employment areas. Just over half reported working in the private sector and over 40 per cent in the public sector, with the remaining few split between non-governmental organisations and combined public and private business.

With regard to working practices, just 23 per cent of respondents suggested their day-to-day responsibilities had not been impacted upon. The majority (over two-thirds) reported they were still working but their usual activities had been disrupted, to varying extents. Comments were varied, raising issues from wanting to adhere to social-distancing and childcare responsibilities to difficulties undertaking site visits during this time. One-third of respondents reported they were still travelling for work, with the remaining two-thirds working from home or not working at all. Over three-quarters of respondents found it clear from government guidance whether or not they could continue to work. However, some comments indicated a lack of awareness from the general public meant their continuing to work had been met with challenges.

The majority of respondents commented on remote working and issues related to this. Many talked about not being able to conduct site visits and surveys – sometimes because of employer guidance, sometimes due to clients’ decisions and sometimes because visits could not be conducted within established guidance parameters. Issues with the supply and demand of goods and services were also raised, such as planting stock and machinery.

Many respondents reported a reduction in the amount of work needing to be done, delays and changes to existing work schedules and a reduction in income as a result. Some expressed concern or uncertainty about the future of their businesses.

Almost all respondents had some awareness of available government financial schemes but relatively few were accessing or planning to access them (30 per cent). For example, just 10 per cent of respondents were deferring VAT and self-assessment payments. However, comments received suggest that for some it was a question of ‘not yet’, indicating this might change as the situation develops.

Many commented positively that such support was available, but there was doubt from some about how it would work in practice, in addition to concerns regarding delays in payments. Notably, the survey highlighted several areas in the sector where available schemes will not benefit businesses – for example, where small-business directors pay themselves through dividends.

Jemima Cooper, senior policy and research officer, Institute of Chartered Foresters, said: “A strong theme that emerged from responses related to continuing professional development (CPD) and how members could undertake relevant learning opportunities.

“With several CPD activities having had to be cancelled thus far, the institute responded quickly and moved much of our events calendar online. We also established #MembersHour, an informal weekly series of webinars, hosted by tree professionals, covering a diverse range of topics relevant to members. These online sessions have proven immensely popular and are regularly fully booked – we plan to continue their use as part of our events schedule after regular face-to-face meetings are once again permitted.

“Another theme was about information and guidance. The institute is continuing to work with partners and governments to ensure members have access to the information they need. We monitor the situation daily.”

Regular updates can be found on the ICF’s COVID-19 webpage:

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