Interview - Mark Chester, chairman, Consulting Arborists Society

Mark Chester had big shoes to fill when David Lloyd-Jones stepped down as founding chairman of the Consulting Arborists Society (CAS) earlier this year.

Mark Chester, chairman, Consulting Arborists Society - image: Mark Chester
Mark Chester, chairman, Consulting Arborists Society - image: Mark Chester

The former local authority tree officer - who now runs independent arboricultural consultancy Cedarwood Tree Care - replaced Lloyd-Jones's successor James Royston this spring, after Royston left to devote more time to his MSc studies.

Chester says the CAS can help less established members of the profession reach the Arboricultural Association-recognised national standard.

Chester, who got his "big break" in arboriculture as the tree officer in planning at Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council in 2000, says: "I am keen to promote the CAS to fellow professionals including those in local authority planning departments, town planners, architects and solicitors."

Chester notes that despite their climbing expertise, experienced arborists may not feel equipped to write reports. Others are considering the next stage of their career. The CAS offers guidance and mentoring to help with report writing.

The CAS is also taking on the Lantra professional trees inspection course to help with this. Chester explains: "The course is very relevant to people doing professional inspections. It's a recognised qualification and can easily be marketed. There is a lot of demand for people to do safety assessments."

He adds: "I found that the Arboricultural Association-registered consultant scheme is more for people who are established and have 10 to 15 years of experience with a diverse portfolio including experience with structural problems, trees and accidents and working as expert witnesses.

"Owing to the range of depth of experience required to become an Arboricultural Association reg cons, one typically needs a minimum 10 to 15 years of experience.

"With the CAS, providing applicants have four years of consulting experience - which can include local authority work - and insurance, they can join."

Chester says the CAS is aiming to be the training route that feeds into the Arboricultural Association scheme. "For many consultants, especially those starting off in their career, the CAS exists to give people training opportunities and experience so they can develop.

"People with experience know what they're looking for. The risk is when people say 'a tree surgeon looked at my tree and said it was safe'. But did they know what they were looking at? Structural weaknesses? Fungi?

"People who climb and prune trees do excellent jobs but they focus more on pruning technique, not the science. They may be asked to do a tree inspection and not know what they were looking for. They may request work on trees that don't need it or might miss a dangerous branch that later gets shed."

The increasing importance of valuing trees is a good way to promote the arb consulting industry, according to Chester. "There is a lack of appreciation regarding valuing trees," he says.

"When I worked for Birmingham City Council, the highways department generally approved the removal of trees to accommodate a new driveway provided that the applicant paid for two replacement trees. This may sound a good deal. However, when the tree being removed is a 100-year-old street tree, worth potentially tens of thousands of pounds, it is perhaps less favourable.

"The CAS used the Council of Tree & Landscape Appraisers methods to value trees realistically in a range of settings including highways, development sites and for processing insurance claims."

Rogue traders are increasingly in the news these days and Chester says the problem in terms of trees is that the public do not always know what to look for in the work. He says the Arboricultural Association is linking with treecare approved.org to look at its marketing so the public know what to look for. There are only 150 approved Arboricultural Association contractors. The CAS has 50 members, though it has been recruiting at Moulton College and The ARB Show.

With the CAS, he wants to follow on from Lloyd-Jones, who "gave a lot to the industry. He needed support because he was doing a lot on his own. I decided to take it on because it is so important."

Chester aims to develop a range of areas of professional competency and continue creating a better structure to allow members to progress their skills and get chartered or registered status. "A lot of people haven't heard of the CAS. I want to change that. There has been a lot of promotion in the industry of the excellent army of climbers, but the consulting side has been overlooked.

"I want to encourage people who are up and coming to get involved. I want local authorities to promote the CAS to the public by putting us on their lists alongside the Arboricultural Association and the Institute of Chartered Foresters - and I want to encourage people in the industry to learn more about professional tree reports."

CV
1993-97: BSc Hons in horticulture at Pershore College of Horticulture
1997-98: NC Arb, Moulton College
1998-99: Practical experience
1999-2000: Hartpury College
2000-04: Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council
2005: Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council
2005: Founded Cedarwood Tree Care
2007-08: Parks tree officer, Birmingham City Council
2009 to date: Full time at Cedarwood, professional member of
Arboricultural Association and Institute of Horticulture


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