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Technology, Innovation and Infrastructure: Trees & Society session spotlight (part 5)

Author:  Arboricultural Association
Last Updated:  27/08/2021

Technology, Innovation and Infrastructure:
Trees & Society session spotlight (part 5)

The 54th Amenity Conference 2021

The 54th AA National Amenity Conference



6–7 September 2021

Win a free day at the 2022 Conference if you book by 31st August

The must-see event for anyone who works with, or is interested in, amenity trees.

The theme of Conference 2021 is Trees and Society, and seeks to explore this relationship in more depth through four sessions over two days.

Throughout the Tuesday morning session, we’ll hear about exciting new research into the characteristics of urban trees that are most valued by citizens, as well as how the benefits change before and after trees are removed from parks and streets.

Get yourself ready for the conference and enjoy part five of our session preview below.


Technology, Innovation and Infrastructure
(Part 5)

Tuesday 7 September 2021 – Morning

Clare Hall

Clare Hall

How different types of engagement with trees and greenspace can lead to learning, new knowledge and skills development: A qualitative focus


The ecosystem services (ES) concept gained widespread exposure following the publication of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MA) in 2003, and, in the United Kingdom (UK), the National Ecosystem Assessment (NEA) in 2011 and the NEA Follow On (NEAFO) in 2014. The now widely recognised ES framework includes four categories of ES, namely supporting, regulating, provisioning and cultural. Cultural services provide the non-material benefits that people obtain from ecosystems through recreation, aesthetic experiences and reflection that may lead to spiritual enrichment, cognitive development and improvements in health and well-being.

This paper is concerned with the cultural ecosystem (CE) benefits that derive from these CE services. Cultural ecosystem benefits incorporate sub-categories of goods including ‘Education and Ecological Knowledge’ goods. In this paper the findings are presented from three UK studies, namely an evaluation of Observatree, an evaluation of Mission: Invertebrate and a visitor study at Bedgebury Pinetum. These studies were concerned with how human engagement with trees and greenspaces can lead to learning, new knowledge and new skills via a spectrum of formal and informal activities and outdoor experiences.

Evidence from 113 participants in interviews and focus groups shows that there were four ‘learning’ themes, namely, learning about new topics, new actions and places, and developing new skills. Kinaesthetic learning was revealed to be important for the process of learning. Results also revealed that topic-specific learning activities can lead to broader knowledge about nature. The study points to a number of important questions that need to be addressed: Does new knowledge about environmental actions lead to habitual behaviours? To what extent can informal activities lead to learning? What is the significance of new knowledge versus building on existing knowledge and interests? All these points should be considered by policy makers and practitioners promoting learning through engagement with trees and greenspace.


Dr Clare Hall joined Forest Research in 2017, having previously worked as a social scientist in academic, policy and non-profit-making sectors. Previous employers include Zero Waste Scotland, Cardiff University and the Scottish Agricultural College (now Scotland’s Rural College). She was also seconded to Defra’s Plant Health Policy Team to work as a Social Science Research Fellow in Tree and Plant Health and Biosecurity in 2012/2013.

Neil Strong

Neil Strong

Re-establishing the railway hedge – a boundary to the national network for people and nature


Network Rail operates 32,000 kilometres of railway across Britain on an estate covering 52,000 hectares running 25,000 trains per day at up to 200 kph. The original construction of the railway included provision of fences or hedges to demarcate the boundary and which, over time and with legislation changes, have become methods to prevent trespass by people and animals.

Over those same 170 years, the management of vegetation, including the hedges, on the railway estate has changed from regular, labour-intensive management to a fault-led, reactive regime. The original grassland habitat has undergone succession and, in many places, has become semi-mature, naturally regenerated woodland that has undergone unmanaged coppicing over the last 80 or 90 years. Management of the trees and other vegetation is necessary for safety reasons, but this can create conflict with some of our seven million lineside neighbours.

Initiatives to improve performance on the east coast main line in April 2018 lead to the removal of trees alongside the railway at Hadley Wood, Hertfordshire. The resulting furore was key in instigating the Varley Review of Network Rail’s lineside vegetation management.

This paper will describe the interactions between Network Rail, the Tree Council and the Hadley Wood Rail User Group which ultimately resulted in the laying down of a trial to re-establish a hedgerow alongside the operational railway comparing techniques of direct seeding, whip planting and natural regeneration. The paper will describe the initial results after a couple of growing seasons. The paper will also look at the opportunities that sustainable land management on the railway estate can have for local communities and biodiversity, as well as contributing to nature recovery across Britain.


Dr Neil Strong studied forestry and ecology as an undergraduate (Edinburgh) and a post-graduate (Portsmouth). He is biodiversity strategy manager at Network Rail providing expertise and support on sustainable management of the lineside necessary to improve the biodiversity of the rail network. He has previously worked on management of lineside assets including vegetation and fences. His current focus is delivering guidance and tools to integrate the management of biodiversity on the rail network into existing practice. This work has to take account not only of environmental but also social obligations on an estate where trains pass at up to 200kph.

Andy Gardner

Andy Gardner

Utility Arboriculture – Protecting the National Infrastructure that enables Modern Society


Our aim is to inform and expand on the Utility Arb Sector. We feel this sector may have a bad reputation.

It may be true that, in the past, tree management around our national infrastructure (most obviously around over-head powerlines) was carried out with little thought about tree health, safety of operatives and impact on both the environment and the reputation of asset managers and those who work in this sector.

However, Utility Arboriculture has been on a journey over the past 10 to 15 years! Our sector now employs arborists at all levels from working arborists to managers and budget holders who control work valued in millions of £’s. We are proud to part of this industry that has taken decision making away from engineers, now policies and programmes involve significant input from Arboricultural professionals. The presentation will cover this journey. From the “bad old days” of “slash and burn” tree work undertaken on behalf of the infrastructure owners to present day practice (levels of qualification/competence/expertise) and on to what the future may hold for this important sector of Arboricultural operations.