Thursday, 31 December 2009

Goodbye to 2009, welcome to 2010!

Happy New Year!
Over the past few days a number of initiatives have begun to crystallise, as ever when the key movers and shakers are on leave!

First, I have been very fortunate to secure the services of a Survey Assistant for our Oxford City Council project; Nick Burke will start with us on 4 January and give Henry Keays valuable support. Nick’s recent experience is as a Tree Officer and so not only have I been able to increase our capacity, but also capability. With that in mind I shall be able to call on Henry and Nick to undertake small instructions in the vicinity of Oxford.

The urgent tree survey for planning purposes was completed, I hope that it will prove to have been satisfactory for the client and the planners, but I must admit to feeling slightly uncomfortable: in my opinion there were no tree issues at the site that could be reasonably expected to hold up the proposed development and I fear that the report was required simply to complete the bundle of supporting documents.

Secondly, I’ve been invited to proceed to the next stage of a research project that aims “to provide authoritative and comprehensive guidance on the urban landscape design, planting, management and maintenance of large canopy trees” – I will approach this as an end-user and as a representative of the arboricultural community, as well as a commercial opportunity for Parkwood Consultancy Services – I hope I can marry those two strands together seamlessly!

The third project, for a Registered Social Landlords in the Midlands, is beginning to firm up in my mind and settle into a genuine opportunity, provided I can marry that particular project with another in the same region to spread the cost of the resource requirement.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A flurry!
As the weather outside turns wintry, with eddies and flurries of sleet, I’ve had a busy morning with a couple of very promising enquiries – one for planning permission for a residential property, via an urgent BS5837:2005 tree survey, and the second for a larger scale social development where both a tree survey and a phase I habitat survey are required in order to satisfy the local planning authority.

The first I can complete before Christmas, the second will require the architect’s and developer’s plans to crystallise and firm up a little more before I go into the field.

I’ve also renewed contact with an old friend, and it looks as though a very interesting scheme, to design a target-lead survey and tree risk management plan, will see the light of day in the first quarter of 2010.

Research projects
An opportunity to further the development of a local authority’s tree strategy has been put back, but only for a couple of weeks. I’m confident that we’re on the right path and that the work we’re doing together will help all the authority’s officers to demonstrate consistent and robust tree management to both the public and to members.

I have been invited to contribute to a learned conference in the spring, with a host of other “end users” to discuss the commercial impact of tree diseases upon the arboricultural industry, from nurseryman to woodchip dealer. I must start asking searching questions!

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

New business? Let's hope so

More interest!
One of my clients has encouraged me to investigate how I can increase my surveying capacity on his project for a short period, in order to try to align my spend with his budget for the year.

Another strong prospect seems to be emerging as a real opportunity, and so I might be in the market for another MobileMapper CX loaded with DigiTerra Explorer software early in the new year. A second prospect, for a large-scale inventory survey, that I have been nurturing for some time may begin to see the light of day before Christmas . . . Both will depend upon our ability to produce client ready data in the field and so reduce our post-processing costs to a minimum.

Research projects
As I have written before, I am interested in research projects where I might be able to address the question in my own right, or act as the “glue” to hold together and manage a team of experienced, niche, specialists in order to draw out the required response to the client’s brief.

There are a number of projects in the offing at the moment; I have considered one of those projects more fully since my last blog and have decided not to proceed. I did not feel that I had enough time to locate the experienced professionals that I needed, for example experts in researching historic landscapes, archivists, archaeologists and so on, and to get them on-side in time to meet the client’s deadline.

In passing I suspect that the pool of recognised (and so acceptable and credible) experts is quite shallow and so in order to form a wining project team one has to be quick off the mark!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

A wet Thursday

Oxford City Council
Today I’ll be catching up with Henry in Oxford, dodging the rain in a cafĂ© in Marston or Headington.

We’ve been instructed to record data about all the trees on housing land, communal trees (which is quite a common request) and those trees in tenants’ gardens. Oxford Homes have taken the view that they want to know what is where so that they can, if necessary, take preventative action to stop the risk of a tree damaging property. Damage might be caused by branches hitting the housing stock or by expanding roots lifting paths or patios or damaging drains.

We have yet to move on to the greater part of the project, which is to be to capture data about all the trees in the parks and open spaces of the city.

To help us we are using a MobileMapper CX – a hand-held data logger that is GPS enabled, so it knows where it is – and DigiTerra Explorer software – a simple package that allows us to record all sorts of attributes, pick lists that have been designed to suit our client’s needs.

By capturing the records electronically we can upload client ready data straight to the client’s server and into their database so that their records are as contemporary as possible.

Expressions of Interest
I have submitted an Expression of Interest for a number of interesting sounding research projects, a new area of activity for me, and I wait anxiously to see if I will be invited to the next stage of the process. Quite reasonably clients are looking for suitable experience, but without the first instruction I will not be able to gain that experience, and so it really is chicken and egg situation for me.

One particular project, which will result in best practice for the retention of green infrastructure in towns, is of particularly special interest to me because of the decade that I spent in Milton Keynes, from 1985 to 1996, helping to manage the landscape of the newly emerging city. The team was lead by Rai Darke, a far-sighted and driven man (who hates the limelight!), and who has helped to shape my thinking. We all assumed that the work we did everyday was common place, it’s only years later that I now realise how far-sighted Rai was.

Another project seems to refer to a literature review of the documented history of a particular landscape, which will inform the implementation of a new landscape plan for the area. Again, historic landscapes is not “my bag” but I know people who would be interested – if I can secure a place on the tender list when others can’t then perhaps the client will be able to get the body of work they need through the procurement exercise.

The third project will require me to act as a focal point, bringing together the demand and supply sides in a local woodland economy. The measures that will be used to determine the success of the project are hard-nosed commercial – how many start-up businesses have been created and so on, so it’s a really good pragmatic approach to what is essentially an economic project.

So, all these seem to presume an ability to communicate, not necessarily an ability as an arboriculturist” – sounds OK to me!

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Well, another day and another opportunity – none have yet been converted into actual work though since we won the contract to survey the trees Oxford City Council’s parks, open spaces and housing areas. Henry is out there with his MobileMapper and DigiTerra software recording the various attributes and then uploading the information to the Council’s server.

To date this year I’ve expressed interest in 61 enquiries, some were “never wozzers” to quote John Le Carre, and some have been converted in to genuinely interesting projects where I have learned as I have advised my client.

The comparison with this time last year is interesting – seemingly I’d had 68 enquiries by then but one of those, a local PCT, generated a number of separate pieces of consultancy work – tree risk management plans as well as BS5837 surveys on development sites.

The enquiries this year, and particularly at the end of this year, have had more of a “research” flavour –
· CIRIA have published an opportunity to produce “A guide for long lived large trees and other green infrastructure in urban environments”
· The National Forest are seeking support to increase the demand for woodland products and services, and
· The Westonbirt Arboretum are looking for help to restore pleasure gardens, parkland, built landscape features and the collection if historic trees and shrubs within a Grade 1 listed landscape

I’m not saying that I personally can do all three but I know people who can, and they might need someone like Parkwood Consultancy Services to back them if they are to make an offer, so the role is sometimes akin to that of marriage broker.

I’m also trying to find the time to support the Arboricultural Association as they seek to provide good, practical guidance on how to plant a tree in time for the BBC’s Breathing Places Tree O’clock campaign – you may be surprised that something that would appear to be so simple, like planting a tree, can be got so badly wrong on TV! However, I may be spoilt because I was in great company a few weeks ago planting trees at Kew Gardens with their own Mr Tree, Tony Kirkham. The Association had been given three lovely trees by Henry Girling that were to be presented to Kew to mark their 250th anniversary, the story is on the PCS web site in full.

More soon, hopefully to tell you about a fantastic win!