The London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) was first established in 1982, created out of a need for contact and exchange of information on arboricultural matters between London boroughs.
Since then regular meetings have been held in various boroughs across the capital, covering topics ranging from tree legislation to management techniques. A series of technical seminars have been hosted and numerous publications, reports and guidelines have been produced by the LTOA, including the effects of salt damage on trees, TPO's, tree roots and employing a contractor, Cypress hedges.
The LTOA deals with the problems and issues which impact on London's trees and woodlands. These are formally discussed where solutions are sought.
The LTOA constitutes the professional and technical voice for London's trees and woodlands.
Tree Officers have to deal with a wide range of issues and specialist areas that are set against a legal, regulatory, often highly political and emotive background. These tree issues are driven by the complex relationship between rising urban populations and the trees that surround them.
No other land based profession can claim this degree of distinctiveness through diversity.
Clearly, the scope of local authority arboriculture is broad. Indeed many functions cannot legally be ignored, yet large numbers of authorities nation-wide still make no real attempt to provide a proper professional arboricultural service, making do with one or sometimes two over stretched officers who are often accountable to managers working in other fields or professions without a background in arboriculture.
This approach provides little more than a reactive, or 'fire-fighting' service. Within many local authorities there remains a real lack of understanding regarding the work of an arboricultural officer, and at the same time little appreciation of the magnitude and range of responsibilities he/she has in managing a resource that could be worth tens of millions of pounds!
The obligations on local authorities as owners of trees are clearly understood, as is the enormous duty of care imposed to ensure that trees are in an acceptably safe condition. Increasingly there are other developments which tree officers, as custodians of green resources, must take on board, such as Local Agenda 21 initiatives to develop sustainable solutions in tree care and management whilst promoting biodiversity; and progressing new consultative approaches and measures to deliver Best Value for taxpayers.
The solution is clear, there needs to be a general recognition of arboriculture's unique function as the manager of the relationship between trees and human populations. It must be recognised that in an urbanised society where sustainability and environmental issues are becoming ever more important, such management is not a luxury but a necessity.
There needs to be a general acceptance that managing trees in urban environments with all the practical, legal and social pressures involved is a complex, time consuming requirement, dependent upon the training and deployment of professional officers in adequate numbers.
Tree officers working as part of a team with ecologists, planners, highways officers, landscape architects and engineers alike is the key to success. Skills, knowledge and experience is then complemented and shared to provide high quality urban environments.
The making do culture is no longer good enough!