How responsible a school is judged to be in the management of its trees and other green assets boils down to its ability to demonstrate that it has taken all ‘reasonable steps’ to minimise risk to its pupils, parents, staff and visitors.
Various statutes and regulations have established the level of duty of care required from owners or managers of land containing trees to ensure that foreseeable damage does not occur due to tree failure. According to the Health & Safety Executive (HSE), if you have trees on land that constitutes public space you have a duty of care to do ‘all that is reasonably practicable to ensure that people are not exposed to risk to their health and safety’.
Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974, owners or managers of commercial premises have the additional obligation to undertake regular tree surveys. And the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 puts the onus on the occupier to protect those entering a site.
While the small print is open to interpretation, a place of such public attendance (and profile) as a school or college will be expected to take this obligation seriously. Your management team will garner little sympathy from the courts of either law or public opinion if they fail in this. If that does not persuade you, your insurance company will likely expect you to show you have taken ‘reasonable steps’ to minimise all risk to your pupils, parents, staff and visitors – and therefore your risk of costly liability.
These steps include:
• Condition assessment
• Remedial works
• Ongoing management.
In order to demonstrate responsible management of all your ‘green’ assets - trees, hedges and other significant flora - you must first catalogue them and, ideally, plot them on a plan.
Local authority-run schools likely have service agreements through which they can access digital OS maps for this purpose, but free schools or academies typically do not. JPA can access OS master map data for clients and provide this at cost as part of our asset mapping and surveying service (the free maps available from the OS are not detailed enough for a tree map).
In addition, to achieve optimum location accuracy we use the top-class Global Positioning System (GPS), the SXBlue II GPS. This is a compact, weather-proof, real-time receiver that reliably delivers sub-60cm positioning information to our Geographical Information System (GIS) and drawing program.
We can then use these programs to create detailed and accurate maps, condition reports and management plans without time-consuming and error-prone replication - and of course with the ability to print off as many copies as required.
There are various recognised systems for assessing the condition of trees. The Quantified Tree Risk Assessment (QTRA) system is ideal for school and college sites because it applies proven risk management principles to tree safety. Instead of focusing solely on a surveyor's descriptive assessment of a tree's condition, it takes into account its condition plus its value and risk to the site and the users of that site, then numerically quantifies the level of risk on an industry-accepted scale.
Two of JP Associates' arboricultural consultants are QTRA licence holders with 13 years' combined experience of QTRA inspections. They have a reputation for a sensible approach to QTRA, preventing over-zealous reactions to potential risk so that trees are not felled or pruned unnecessarily, while nevertheless ensuring public safety.
Tree management policy
This is typically a management plan that accounts for the condition and mix of trees and hedges in your care such that you can meet your legal and/or moral obligations, as well as your long-term campus management objectives.
JPA can prepare management plans for sites of all sizes. Actions are many and varied: remedial recommendations might include pruning, canopy reduction, removal of heavy objects on or near root systems, path or traffic redirection, the erection of protection zones, or watering regimes and soil aeration.
The management plan would also include a programme of follow-up surveys.
This is a thorough condition assessment of trees by a qualified arboriculturist. We would recommend that such a survey is undertaken every three years, unless there is an obvious event which could cause change to the condition of your natural assets, such as a construction project, disease, flood or storm.
Our plant health surveying work for the Forestry Commission has kept us up-to-date with pest and disease developments so we are well placed to help you manage your stock and plan for potential problems as effectively as possible.
We are also one of the few commercial arboricultural consultancies to be using the cutting-edge Arborcheck system to assess the ‘inner health’ of a tree. By the time a tree’s ill-health is visible, it is often too late to save it. Conversely, a tree that looks poor might actually have a sound physiological framework, but this fact may only be discovered after it is felled.
The Arborcheck kit allows us to read the intensity and nature of a tree’s fluorescence, and also measure the foliar chlorophyll concentrations in its leaves (leaf greenness). Combined, this enables us to make an early judgement on a tree’s true health regardless of appearance, and take timely remedial action, so that we can return a tree to health or save it from unnecessary felling.
To find out more about how the Arborcheck system works, click here >>>
You should appoint someone to check all your natural assets for signs of obvious damage or poor health on a regular basis - say once a season, plus after any event that might affect them such as a storm or development project.
All observations should be logged and filed. This may be undertaken by someone without arboricultural training, although some initial guidance by an expert in what to observe, note and take action on, would be recommended.