Industry Best Practice – Tree Work BS3998:2010

As a progressive company we feel it important to connect with the industry at a local level. To this end we recently showed initiative by being one of the first in the country to organise an event to highlight the recent changes to BS3998 – Tree Work Recommendations.

The new British Standard came into force as of the 31st December 2010 and represents a long overdue revision to the very much outdated 1989 Standard. The Arboricultural industry has evolved beyond recognition over the last 20 years and this new BS should help to raise the profile of proper tree care and bring best practice to a wide audience.

Aspect Training Seminar – Jan 2011

Aspect Tree Consultancy organised a seminar to disseminate information contained in the new BS which was held on the 25th January 2011 and was kindly supported by South Hams District Council and The Arboricultural Association.

Sixty delegates from across the South West attended the event, which included a mix of Tree Surgeons and Arboricultural Contractors, together with a strong representation of Local Authority Tree Officers and officials, including South Hams District Council, Plymouth City Council, Torbay Council, East Devon District Council, West Devon District Council and Dartmoor National Park.

Presentations were given by Dominic Scanlon, Chris Widdicombe and Jon Kiely of Aspect Tree Consultancy, focussing on the technical content of the Standard. Simon Putt of South Hams District Council then followed on offering a Tree Officer’s perspective on how the changes will affect those wanting to apply for works and particularly what level of information will now be required in order that applications for tree work are registered.

BS 3998:2010 Tree Work – Recommendations

The new document moves the emphasis on how to prune and the selection of final pruning cuts to a greater emphasis on why and when to prune trees or undertake works. This is a welcome change as it forces users of the Standard to consider carefully if trees will tolerate the works and if the works will be carried out at a time of year that will cause the least stress and damage to the tree.

The addition of a flow chart that covers the process from instruction to completion and follow up of tree works operations provides a clear, easy guide to Arboriculturists on the thought processes they need to follow.

The Standard also covers retention of stumps and more specialist works to Veteran trees. This reflects the changes not only in the industry but wider society on the importance of wildlife habitats, their retention and management. The Standard also makes it clear that consideration needs to be given to ensure these practices are carried out where appropriate.

Importantly the Standard now provides much greater guidance on tree pruning operations especially the appropriate level of the volume of branch material that can and should be removed without causing the tree damage. The operation of crown reduction is clarified and this is extremely welcome especially as it appears to be an area where the old Standard was much misunderstood. If implemented correctly the Standard provides an important step forward for the industry and for tree care.

There is now an emphasis on the time of year that works can be carried out. An important finding from research is that works during Spring and Autumn, when trees are using the most energy in their growth cycle, can be very damaging to their long-term health. Consideration now needs to be given to when and if the tree will tolerate the proposed works. If the tree is not in an optimal condition the works may need to be phased over a number of years, especially if the level of branch removal exceeds recommended levels.

There is also an important emphasis on assessing the condition of the tree prior to recommending what works are appropriate as an attempt to predict how it will respond.

The Soil

Our industry’s appreciation of the importance of the condition of the soil in relation to tree health has altered significantly over the last few years. The Standard now includes more detail on techniques for soil improvement, protection and care. Whilst other areas of the Standard pose a constraint on tree surgery operations this area provides an important opportunity and helps us move from an industry dominated by tree surgeons to an industry of tree care professionals.

Tree Work Applications

All these changes will alter the level of information required by Local Planning Authorities when registering and considering tree work applications. This may include tighter specifications on how much material is being removed (pruning), soil protection measures, and phasing of tree works.

The changes will have an effect on any member of the general public or organisation who own or manage trees.

The revised Standard will have an enormous impact on the quality and level of tree care, which will now be expected of tree surgeons and contractors. South Hams District Council Tree Officer, Simon Putt, explained the requirements now expected from members of the public and contractors wishing to specify or undertake works to protected trees, and he went on to say that if the relevant detailed information is not provided at the application stage, it would result in the Local Authority failing to register the application.

Tree Surgeons in the South West

Paul Smith of the Arboricultural Association gave a presentation explaining how the association was supporting its members and the benefits which membership brings. Paul, who is also responsible for the AA Approved Contractor Scheme (a vetting process for tree work contractors), also explained how approved status is now more easily achievable and accessible for smaller companies.

The feedback from delegates was extremely positive and encouraging, and seeing as we had to turn people away because the venue was full, we are thinking of running the event again in the near future.

The revised BS 3998 document can be obtained from the British Standards Institute.

4 Replies to “Industry Best Practice – Tree Work BS3998:2010”

  1. I’m interested in your comments on validating tree work applications.
    The requirements for a valid TPO application are set out in the Town and Country Planning (Trees) Regulations 1999, as amended by The Town and Country Planning (Trees) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2008. They are further amplified by the standard form issued by the Secretary of State. None of these make any reference to BS3998. Nor do they appear to give any discretion to the planning authority to impose their own requirements. So I’m dubious as to whether the new BS3998 makes any difference to the information needed to make up a valid application.
    The only thing I can see that you could hang this on is the requirement to include “such information as is necessary to specify the work for which consent is sought;”. But BS3998 consists of recommendations. It is in no way legally binding. It may be best practice, but nothing in statute says that the information in an application has to be in line with best practice.
    In my view, refusing to validate a TPO application because it does not meet with the recommendations of BS3998 is unlawful.
    And as for conservation area notifications, not a hope. The requirements for these are very limited indeed.

  2. You make some valid points here. It seems that LPA are already requesting this information during the application procedure, after validation. This approach is lawful and routine and LPA are within their rights to refuse an application if they feel that important information is not forthcoming or a lack of detail could lead to damage e.g. a method statement for access where protected trees may be affected by vehicle movements. They are also imposing conditions requiring works during certain times of the year to correspond with the phenological periods. So the requirements of BS3998 will have a direct impact on the application process – whether that is at the pre or post registration stages.
    I think it is likley that the inclusion of method statements will become routine as part of tree work applications as will other restrictions that are recommended in BS3998. It is worth remembering that the Standard will be a material consideration at appeal.
    My advice to applicants is that they should provide a sufficient level of information to support their reasons for making the application. If they can demonstrate that they have considered the issues recommended in BS3998 then they will have a greater chance of success at the application or appeals processes.

  3. I think my problem here is that unlike planning applications, which are usually made by agents, the vast majority of TPO apps are made by householders, without technical knowledge or an expensive copy of BS3998 to browse.
    I think it is also debatable that an LPA can arbitarily require additional information. This may be the case with development, but remember that although the basis of TPOs comes from the Town and Country Planning Act, by the definition within that Act tree work is not development. The consequence of this is that many of the additional powers related to applications for development do not apply to applications for tree work.

  4. There may be an interesting legal debate to be had here but I would suggest that unless the works applied for are accurately specified then the LPA could choose not to register the application. The Act states that the application should contain “such information as is necessary to specify the work for which consent is sought”.
    As we discussed at the Seminar the new BS offers good guidance as to how tree works should be specified. A specification, by definition, needs to be unambiguous.
    Historically many operatives in the industry have used terms such as “30% crown reduction” which is totally meaningless as a specification.
    I take your point that specifications need not be in accordance with BS3998 however they do need a sufficient level of detail to clearly communicate exactly what is to be done to the tree(s) otherwise applications may not be registered.

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