Many companies in the environmental and planning sectors now offer ‘arboricultural services’. From large multi-national consultancies to smaller ecologists or landscape architect companies – there are an increasing number of slick websites offering ‘tree surveys for planning’. As these professions deal with the environment or ‘green stuff’, is there much difference? Is it worth seeking out a specialised arboricultural consultant or could some other environmental professional undertake a tree survey for planning and development purposes?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, our view at AWA Tree Consultants is that you should use qualified and experienced arboriculturists for your tree surveys for planning. By not using a specialist arboricultural consultant you potentially miss out on a lot of added value and ultimately you may put your project at risk. At the very least, the company quoting for the tree survey and reporting work must be able to show they are of the appropriate standard to meet the needs of the local planning authority when they are considering your planning application.
We are increasingly taking on projects where a tree survey by a non-arboricultural specialist has not been accepted by the Local Authority as compliant with BS 5837:2012. Or we are asked to take over on projects where a previous base-line tree survey for planning was undertaken, and as the project progresses, more specialist tree advice was needed, with the company that undertook the base-line tree survey being unable or unwilling to assist. As we are can’t rely on this original tree survey data, we generally have to start from scratch to move the project forward, which adds extra cost and delays to a development project.
There is a lot more to providing useful advice in relation to trees and development than knowing basic tree identification and how to use a DBH tape. All environmental professionals should know and act within their limitations. Tree reports and tree constraints plans based on ill-informed tree survey data have the potential to derail development projects. This can be at the expense of trying to retain low value replaceable (or even hazardous) trees, or else it can reduce the value of a site by degrading the landscape, when high value trees are not recognised or protected.
Because the requirements of what constitutes a ‘suitably qualified and experienced arboriculturist’ are more vague for BS 5837:2012 tree surveys than they are for some other similar environmental surveys, it has perhaps been too easy for allied professionals to become jack-of-all-environmental-trades. Yet a key part of being professional is to be aware of the limits of your competence and not to be tempted to work beyond these. The same way you’d want a dentist and not a physiotherapist to sort your tooth decay – even though they are allied professionals – not using qualified and experienced arboricultural consultants for your tree surveys for planning may end up being just as painful to your development project!