National Tree Safety Group guide could remove need for tree standard

The controversial draft British standard on tree safety could be consigned to the history books if new guidance produced by an industry-led group makes the grade.

The influential National Tree Safety Group (NTSG), which spearheaded a drive persuading the British Standards Institute (BSI) to put the brakes on tree safety standard BS 8516, has formulated a document of its own.

The NTSG is set to finalise its draft between the end of January and March, with the final document ready for distribution through industry in the autumn.

One of its authors, Neville Fay, who represents the Ancient Tree Forum and English Heritage on the NTSG, told HW that the document covers not only the risk from trees and what managers can do to maximise public safety but also examines the nature of trees as a living organism and the benefits they have to society.

"We know there can sometimes be an unacceptable and disproportionate response to the risk from trees, which leads to the loss of very important hedgerow and roadside trees," Fay explained.

Those involved in writing the document include former London Tree Officers Association chairman Andy Tipping, Arboricultural Association technical officer Simon Richmond and Country Land & Business Association forestry and woodlands adviser Mike Seville.

Also consulting with the drafting committee was barrister Richard Stead and Middlesex University's senior lecturer on risk John Watt.

NTSG chair Judith Webb said research showed the risk from trees was "extremely low", but added: "In the unlikely event there is a problem then at least there is guidance that a wide group of stakeholders has agreed is reasonable."

Institute of Chartered Foresters president Bill McDonald said: "It's been a slow process involving research, industry and the public to make sure that the new guidance is practical, meaningful and defendable. Its release will be a real watershed event this year."

The draft BS 8516 was published in May 2008 but the recommendations, which include tree inspection frequencies of between one and five years, prompted a strong reaction from an industry concerned about the fundamental need for such guidelines. The BSI received around 300 pages of responses to the draft. It is itself now a member of the NTSG.

BSI trees technical committee chairman Mick Boddy told HW that BS 8516 had been "temporarily put on hold pending the NTSG's work coming to its conclusion".

"If it is appropriate for there to be a standard to accompany the work of the NTSG, that will happen. But if it is not deemed necessary, then so be it," he added.

Arboricultural Association director Nick Eden explained: "The big issue is whether or not a tree safety standard is required or whether the NTSG guidance will do all that it needs to do. The debate is related to urban canopy cover because the bigger the tree, the bigger the risk."

The NTSG will provide information on its newly-launched website at www.ntsg.org.uk.

 

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