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Women in Arb Networking Day at Kew Gardens

Author:  Stella Bolam
  15/05/2023
Last Updated:  19/05/2023

Stella Bolam, Association Trustee and Women in Arb Committee Member


It was a long-awaited day for many of us because it was three years in the making (thanks to Covid interrupting the original plans), but hopefully the first Women in Arboriculture Networking Day has set the precedent for more in-person events which promote diversity in arboricuture in the future.

On 29th March, the event brought together around 100 tree care professionals (the vast majority of whom were women) to provide an opportunity for learning, knowledge-sharing and networking/connecting all within the wonderful setting of the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew.

The event was organised by the Women in Arb (WIA) Committee members, and had the financial backing of the Association itself and three external sponsors – Pfanner, EGO Power+ and Lantra Awards – which meant it could be free of charge for delegates, with lunch and refreshments provided.

Delegates enjoy morning talks in the Jodrell lecture theatre.

Delegates enjoy morning talks in the Jodrell lecture theatre.

Stefania Gasperini and Giovanni Morelli lead the attendees on their specially created morphophysiology tree walk.

Stefania Gasperini and Giovanni Morelli lead the attendees on their specially created morphophysiology tree walk.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square: the Ukrainian flags in the grass mark the deaths of civilians in the conflict.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti, Independence Square: the Ukrainian flags in the grass mark the deaths of civilians in the conflict.

Delegates gather for the morning networking session.

Delegates gather for the morning networking session.

The morning

After registration and refreshments, the morning’s talks got going with a welcome message from the WIA’s Chair, Mandy Maynard.

Mandy explained how the WIA’s work had evolved since its inception in 2018 to provide a voice for women, and promote diversity in all respects, in our profession. She explained how certain challenges, such as sourcing PPE which is fit for purpose, have been consistently raised to the Committee by women working in our sector. In response, the Committee, determined to tackle this particular issue, has persistently raised it with manufacturers.

Mandy announced that, arising from this work, significant progress had been made with one manufacturer, Pfanner. A range of prototype chainsaw trousers, workwear gloves, and boots, as well as a Protos integrated arborist helmet, have been developed with a view to creating PPE that is be better suited to women. These prototype samples were on display in the lecture theatre, which meant that women attending could examine and try on the samples. Mandy encouraged everyone to provide feedback to the manufacturer to help Pfanner hone these products for the market.

After Mandy’s words, I then took to the speaker stage to talk about the support and resources which the Association can provide for women in the sector and appealed to delegates to share their ideas and feedback with the Association. I also briefly shared my experience of joining the arb sector as a career-changer, and how the positive interactions I’ve experienced from both the WIA and the Association as a whole have helped spurred me on to my new professional path.

Next up was our special guest speaker Dr Stefania Gasperini, agronomist and arborist, owner of AR.ES. (an Italian company which works in arboriculture and urban forestry) to deliver the keynote talk of the day. Stefania presented new thinking on morphophysiology (the biological relationship between shape and function) and the ethical approach to veteran trees.

In her work Stefania specialises in tree risk, stability assessment and the management of veteran trees. She has spoken at many conferences and workshops, is the current President of the European Arboriculture Council, an ISA Certified Arborist, and is TRAQ Qualified (Tree Risk Assessment Qualification). Working with Dr Giovanni Morelli, Stefania has numerous years’ experience in applying a morphophysiological approach to trees in their daily work and this expertise was clearly and engagingly shared in her presentation.

Judging by the many lively conversations overheard in the coffee break which followed, Stefania’s analysis and the other topics that had been covered so far certainly sparked off our thoughts, and the break gave everyone a chance to catch up with people they already knew or make new connections.

In the sponsor talks which followed, EGO Power+ provided information about its eco-friendly range of battery-operated power tools; Outwear, the UK distributor of Pfanner products, further explained (remotely through a specially produced video) the approach the company is taking to developing a PPE range better designed for women to use; and Lantra Awards emphasised its commitment to creating a culture in arboriculture training in which gender diversity can grow.

The morning’s events continued with a panel Q&A session with Women in Arboriculture Committee members and Stefania. A variety of topics were raised, including the question of succession – ‘How can we encourage younger people and women from all walks of life into the sector?’ We were also asked how many Association members are women; the answer is 11%, which affirms that we have a huge amount work to do to help close this gender gap (although the proportion has grown from 8% of individual members in December 2020, so it is moving in the right direction).

Simon Richmond, Senior Technical Officer at the Associaton, then presented a summary of the Registered Consultant (RC) Scheme, and encouraged delegates to consider registration, especially because there are currently no women RCs.

The afternoon

Two guided tree walks were offered after lunch. Delegates could choose to join Stefania and Giovanni to take a tour of some notable trees in Kew, examining them from a morphophysiological perspective. The second tree walk option, which I joined, gave delegates a fascinating tour of certain special Kew ‘lions’ (the oldest specimens) led by one of Kew’s climbing arborists, Cecily Withall.

We finished off the day with more time for informal networking.

The future

Looking ahead, the WIA Committee will be gathering all the feedback we receive about this event and intends to galvanise the enthusiasm we felt on the day and since.

If you have any ideas or would like to help the Committee in any way to help us promote wider diversity in the sector, you can get in touch by visiting www.trees.org.uk/WIA and completing the contact form, joining our ‘Women in Arboriculture UK’ Facebook group or connect with our ‘Women in Arboriculture (WIA)’ group on LinkedIn.

Dr Stefania Gasperini said …

“Our experience at Kew Gardens was exciting, above and beyond our wildest expectations. We were greeted with warmth and interest by Association staff, Women in Arboriculture (WIA) members, Kew staff and, ultimately, conference participants. The unique trees at Kew provided an exceptional context to illustrate the topics we discussed – ethics in arboriculture and morphophysiology. We thank the Association and WIA members, the sponsors and all the participants for contributing to a day that will remain unforgettable for us. Special thanks to the afternoon’s co-presenter, Cecily Withall, for the unique moments we spent together observing the trees of Kew in a very rewarding technical discussion.

I hope that the WIA group will continue to grow, both in the UK and in the rest of the world, so that arboriculture can become a truly complete and rich working environment.

Stefania Gasperini and Giovanni Morelli will be leading a one-day Association course on morphophysiology on 8th June – see page 13.

“EGO were really happy to support WIA this year, not only because the event highlights where there needs to be change in the industry but also because it gave us the opportunity to gain valuable insights into the arborist community.

Emma Gayler, Marketing Manager at EGO Power+

Come and join our group trees.org.uk/wia
With thanks to our sponsors

This article was taken from Issue 201 Summer 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.