Industry Preview 2010: Arboriculture -- Budget squeeze heads concerns but higher profile for trees

A tightening of local authority budgets and difficulty financing development schemes are among concerns for the arboriculture sector as it enters 2010.

But economic problems aside, there is optimism about the role that trees can play in climate change adaptation and how that could impact on the success of arguments for increased urban canopy cover.

Tree and Woodland Company director Andrew Bowman-Shaw warned: "Local government budgets may get tighter over the next few years and this will probably decrease the amount of local authority tree management work being put out to contract."

This view was echoed by Tim Moya Associates principal consultant Tracy Clarke, who told HW that the economy was already affecting the industry. Finance for schemes had been harder for clients to come by, she said.

However, Clarke added: "We are getting information from clients that things will pick up this year in terms of improved funding from banks. I think people are a bit touchy about the election though and concerned about starting projects before that."

Bowman-Shaw expected a "steady strengthening" of the economy, with the private sector spending more as it continues to stabilise. "There have been signs of increased expenditure in the market over the past four months in the private and voluntary sectors," he said.

"There has also been a marked upturn in grant funding available for countryside management work under the environmental stewardship scheme managed by Natural England. This has enabled many parkland restoration projects involving tree and woodland management works to proceed, at a level of activity not seen for four or five years."

Arboricultural Association director Nick Eden said he believed that there would be two main issues at the forefront of the arb sector in 2010. The first is urban canopy cover and the replacement of large, old trees with smaller ones that will never reach the same canopy capacity.

"People in the industry such as Mark Johnston, Neville Fay, Jeremy Barrell and the Trees and Design Action Group are spearheading a campaign pushing that issue and it needs to remain high on our list of priorities," he explained.

A focus on the issue will sharpen as the Government becomes more attuned with the role of trees in climate change adaptation, Eden suggested.

The second major focus for the sector would be on ensuring collaboration so that research needs could be met, he said. "There is an endless amount of research one could undertake but because it is not particularly co-ordinated by industry at the moment, I think we are missing a trick," he warned.

"We need to look at what the whole industry needs and not focus on individual bodies. There is strength in numbers and that will give us a stronger voice on all the issues."

In addition, the debate on the need for a British standard on tree safety versus industry-led guidelines will finally be resolved this year, Eden predicted.

 

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