Maintenance cuts a false economy, tree officers association chair tells MPs

Saving money on maintaining public trees is like skipping on service and maintenance of a car, London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) chair John Parker has told a gathering of parliamentarians.

Image: LTOA
Image: LTOA

Addressing a meeting of the All-party Parliamentary Gardening and Horticulture Group outside the Houses of Parliament, organised by the Arboricultural Association on 18 July, he said: "When investment stops, the quality of the urban forest inevitably deteriorates, and this will, over time, manifest itself in different ways."

"The risk of tree failure and associated damage, injury or even death increases considerably," he warned.

"Resident complaints rise as they start to forget the benefits of trees and concentrate on the fact that the one outside their house is now touching their window. Unscrupulous developers take advantage of the fact that overworked tree officers are unable to protect public and private trees as they would like to."

The likely end-point will be "a deteriorating urban forest characterised by many trees in a poor, and sometimes dangerous, condition", he said. "Pest and disease problems which could have been prevented from arriving and establishing may be running rampant," while trees "are perceived as a liability and a problem rather than an asset and a solution".

Coupled with a "brain drain" from public sector arboriculture, he pointed out: "Like the irresponsible car owner, we will discover that we will need to spend far more money to sort the mess out than we would have done had we only been wise enough to not chase short-term savings."

He also told parliamentarians that the task of bringing new entrants into tree officer work "is proving rather difficult", and is "another area where we could benefit from political support".

Alluding to the pledges of successive London mayors, he noted: "Targets to increase the tree canopy cover of London and other towns and cities are unlikely to be achieved through planting alone – good standards of management and maintenance and the retention of our existing tree stock are just as important."

Lamenting that "in my ten years or so in the industry there has been near-zero political interest in our work", he urged his audience: "We have to convince your colleagues that if you want a healthy population of urban trees then you need a healthy population of urban tree officers."

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