Careers

Insider Insight: Andy Wakefield

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ENDS Report 501, November 2016

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Andy Wakefield, principal arboricultural consultant at consultancy AECOM, shares some career insights

Andy Wakefield
Andy Wakefield
What has helped you get where you are in your career?

I think my practical background in tree surgery has been helpful but not essential. Having climbed, pruned or felled a lot of trees I have gained a really good understanding of how different trees grow as well as an insight into how feasible or appropriate specific interventions might be, which has proven useful when specifying tree works.

Moving into a variety of new roles has helped with my development. I think moving on from a role you enjoy can be quite difficult but in my view this has been necessary to stretch myself, develop further and gain experience.

Finally, good old fashioned hard work and a ‘can do’ attitude go a long way in building a satisfying career.

Who have been your role-models/mentors?

Each of my line managers has taught me a lot about different aspects of arboriculture, local authority work, management or consultancy. Not all are tree specialists but each one has passed on very useful knowledge and experience from their area of expertise.

What qualifications are the most necessary/most beneficial in the arboricultural sector?

The absolute minimum is typically the Level 4 Technician’s Certificate and the Lantra Professional Tree Inspection (PTI) training, or equivalent. To progress further the Level 6 Diploma in Arboriculture or its equivalent is really worthwhile.

The Lantra PTI course is quite short while the longer Technician’s Certificate and Level 6 Diploma can be studied via distance learning or day release. It is possible to achieve them while still working full time, spending a day in the classroom every two weeks.

Building a portfolio requires a big commitment. But I have found learning with a group of other arboriculturists really useful for sharing ideas, building contacts and developing my understanding.

What have been the stumbling blocks or barriers along the way? And how did you adapt to these challenges?

Finding the time to study is a significant challenge. A really good skill to develop is time management and resilience to high peaks in workload as well as recognising when to step back and switch off.

An issue which has affected all aspects of my career has been the general lack of awareness about trees and why they matter. People often fail to recognise the economic, social, health and amenity benefits that trees provide. I have enjoyed the challenge of increasing awareness and challenging the arguments of people with “not in my back yard” attitudes or who dismissively argue “it is only a tree”. I am proud of the development and implementation work I did on a tree strategy adopted by New Forest District Council.

In consultancy work I have found internal marketing an effective way to highlight the benefits of trees within a large organisation like AECOM. The same approach has raised awareness of the need to carry out tree surveys and assessments at an early stage of any relevant project.

Poor implementation of tree protection measures is also a common problem on development sites. This undermines the tree assessment process and can be very frustrating. Clear and reasonable specifications are really important, as is the use of detailed and specific planning conditions by the local planning authority (LPA).

Monitoring of protection measures is essential on sites that require works in close proximity to existing trees and realistically this is only likely to happen if it is made a formal requirement of planning consent, with a follow up process to ensure it is carried out in full. The forthcoming Tree and Design Action Group (TDAG) guidance on Trees in the Planning System is likely to underline the importance of specific planning conditions and hopefully this will help ensure that Tree Officers are better supported in their work.

What have been the pivotal moments in the field?

Recent efforts to improve public understanding of tree-related benefits – in particular the health and economic value of trees, including issues such as climate change mitigation, pollution absorption and flood water control – have been very welcome. The iTree system, recently used in London, has provided a much publicised method of assigning a financial value to trees and tree populations, which I think has significantly increased awareness.

Greater joined up working is also vital. Organisations such as TDAG have brought together different areas of industry including arboriculturists, landscape architects, engineers, highways experts, government and the private sector to set out best practice, using real-world case studies to illustrate how trees can be successfully incorporated into hard landscapes.  These examples provide a great deal of leverage to arboriculturists and others as they work to improve the way that trees are incorporated into new developments.

At the moment, key challenges also lie in identifying and planning for the pests, diseases and climate change issues that threaten trees in the UK and elsewhere.

How do you get the most out of your team/colleagues?

I think the key things are to lead by example, listen and give clear instructions. It is important to identify areas where people need to develop and take steps to facilitate this, including through continuing professional development (CPD). I also believe in trying to share out the most interesting sites and work, and involving others in these issues so we all benefit. Finally, we all spend a lot of time at work so it is important to make it as relaxed and enjoyable as possible.

Where do you think there are the most job opportunities in the sector?

I think there is likely to be a boom in consultancy as public sector funding cuts mean LPAs are scaling back their work.

There is also a need for more plant-health scientists as currently there are not enough people coming through to provide the next generation of skills. Plant health issues are likely to increase in importance in the future due to climate change as well as new pests and diseases.

What other advice do you have for people about to embark on careers in conservation?

A practical mindset is very important, as is ensuring you can provide justification for your professional opinions and recommendations.

The more you learn the more you realise there are rarely right or wrong answers and there is often more than one way to achieve a successful outcome.

Do not be afraid to speak out and raise awareness. Arboriculturists and environmental experts can add significant value to development projects and it’s important to sell this fact to clients and prospects.

Anyone contemplating a career in this sector should be aware that it is not all climbing trees. I still get to work with real trees on a regular basis but consultancy involves a lot of time working at a computer, which tends to increase with career progression. Our role is to get the most beneficial outcome for trees and biodiversity while achieving our clients’ goals.

Consultancy can be very demanding and you are to an extent at the mercy of your clients, who often need work completed to a tight deadline. Trees are often thought of only at a late stage, which means arboriculturists are left to work within very demanding timescales. It is a slow and ongoing process to lift awareness of the importance of trees up the agenda.

Finally, I would advise budding consultants to work on their report writing and spreadsheet skills. Creating reports can be quite an alien process for many arboriculturists moving into consultancy. Being able to write and produce reports in a clear and concise format is a real skill, which is well worth developing.