Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Women in trees – Becky Porter

Author:  Lisa Sanderson
Last Updated:  25/03/2019
Beck Porter

There are many roles within the arboriculture industry: climbers, ground workers, tree planters, tree officers, arboricultural officers, woodland officers, tree surveyors, consultants, woodland managers, expert witnesses, lecturers, trainers and practical instructors to name but a few. Whatever your label, you are a valuable cog in the urban tree management wheel, working together to make it function well.

'Becky is the lynch-pin of the LTOA, and she is a great advocate for the association and its members. Her organisational skills make her the ideal co-ordinator, and she manages many elements of work in her role, from supporting the executive to helping our many working groups to achieve their outcomes. Much unseen effort goes into ensuring smooth running of the meetings and events she organises.'

Barbara Milne, LTOA Vice Chair

In my experience, some of the most successful and content people are multi-disciplined. That is, they have knowledge and experience of areas outside of arboriculture that can be used to complement their urban tree management role. This brings value to their roles as employees, employers and urban tree managers. It may be conservation, forestry, horticulture, landscape design, planning, geology, engineering, construction, physiotherapy or other complementary disciplines.

For a long time trees were seen as solitary organisms and were managed with little regard for their interconnected environment and associated organisms. As we now know, and as with much in life, trees are made up of an array of endosymbiotic organisms (such as mitochondria, chloroplasts and endophytic fungi) and rely on a great deal more outside of their structural confines. This reliance on others for success is a key lesson in my view and one we should be applying to our everyday work and personal lives - this interdependence extends to all of life.

There are many great people who work within and around the peripheries of arboriculture who make significant contributions to urban tree management without an arborist's label. The support they provide not only our industry but to the trees and their environment themselves makes for our combined success.

Becky Porter is the Executive Officer for the London Tree Officers Association (LTOA) and has been for the past 17 years. She has come to our industry from a conservation background and has done a fantastic job of helping manage the urban trees of London. During her time she has seen many changes but one thing is for certain - the success of the LTOA in its role is in no small part down to Becky.

The role of the LTOA is to enhance the management of the capital's trees and woodlands, and Becky facilitates the activities that lead to reaching the organisation's objectives. Some of this work includes data collection, increasing the profile of trees and woodlands, attracting finance, influencing tree-related legislation, raising standards of management and best practice, influencing arboricultural education, training and safety, creating pro-active management strategies and promoting tree planting. Of significant note, the LTOA faces some tough management issues with pest and disease control and provides significant support to achieve this.

Whilst the focus is on the capital, the LTOA's positive effects are felt further afield, such as the free availability of its excellent guidance notes (e.g. oak processionary moth and Massaria disease of London plane).

'Becky is seen by tree officers, associated members and other professionals within the industry as being the upfront face of the LTOA. What is not often understood is the work that Becky does behind the scene to ensure the LTOA runs smoothly. The professionalism Becky brings to the inner workings of the LTOA is mostly unseen, in terms of the organisation and administration for seminars, events, field trips and working parties, which allows the LTOA to function efficiently and effectively. Becky successfully manages to juggle and deliver the different roles and challenges required to be the LTOA Executive officer.'

Al Smith, Tree Manager, LB Camden (LTOA Host Authority)

This is what Becky had to say about her role

Lisa: What is your current role and who do you work for?

Becky: I am Executive Officer for the London Tree Officers Association (LTOA). I work full time co-ordinating training and seminars along with the membership scheme, amongst other duties, while working with a new chair and vice chair every two years. My background is more broadly environmental, I have a MA in Conservation Policy, Post Graduate Diploma in Environmental Education, Advanced Certificate in Public Relations from the Chartered Institute of Public Relations and have previously worked for the Conservation Volunteers, English Heritage, CPRE, and as an education officer on a city farm.

Lisa: What attracted you to working in the tree care industry?

Becky: When I started working for the LTOA I saw the job as being something to do with protecting the environment, and as I had just finished my masters in conservation policy, I did not know anything about trees. Over the years my interest in how trees, people and the built environment interact has grown and I find it fascinating and fulfilling.

Lisa: What are some of the challenges you faced in establishing yourself within the tree care industry?

Becky: The arboricultural industry is vibrant in the UK with lots going on and lots of competing organisations. This creates a melting pot for new ideas, new research and technology. Working for a local-government-based organisation has meant sometimes it feels that we are not taken seriously as a profession. Personally, I feel establishing myself has been easy; I have always felt respected and encouraged even as a woman working with a majority of men.

Lisa: You have been working within and supporting our industry for quite some time now. What significant changes have you seen in this time?

Becky: I have been working for the LTOA for 17 years and my job has grown considerably as trees have gone up the political agenda. The LTOA has also grown and become a well-respected professional organisation. We are so much more than just a tree officer group and our associate membership scheme consists of contractors, consultants and nurseries. Our working parties, that often produce best practice documents for the industry, are a mix of these sectors, so we can produce well-balanced guidance.

Lisa: What do you love about your job?

Becky: The fact I get to work with a new chair and vice chair every two years. Therefore, I never get bored. I like people and working out what makes them tick so I enjoy seeing what a new chair or vice chair wants to bring to their two-year term and which direction they want to take the organisation. Also, it is a good challenge finding a working relationship with the different personalities. I keep the continuity going for the LTOA and can give a framework for them to work within.

Lisa: Who are your role models or your best supporters and why?

Becky: My role model is Al Smith, Arboricultural Manager at LB Camden and my line manager (because the LTOA is hosted by LB Camden). He is brimming with ideas and very good at networking with people but at the same time unassuming. He is also one of the reasons I have stayed at the LTOA for 17 years as he is good at supporting me and helping me develop.

Lisa: You are well liked, respected and appreciated by both members of the LTOA and non-members. What are the secrets to your success?

Becky: I like to think it is because I am personable and professional with lots of empathy. I enjoy organising and co-ordinating all the activities that the LTOA is involved in and like engaging with people.

Lisa: Who do you now admire most in arboriculture and why?

Becky: Tree officers, as for them trees aren't simply a career; they are a vocation that never waivers even when faced with austerity, changes in the political landscape and the challenges of working in local government.

Lisa: What is your proudest career moment?

Becky: The National Tree Officers Conference. I was part of the steering group that produced the conference held in Telford on 9 November 2016. It was so good to see over 200 people attend and for local authority tree and woodland officers to tell everyone about the interesting and good work they are doing. I pull together four or five seminars a year for the LTOA so it was great to do something on a larger scale.

Lisa: What keeps you sane?,/p>

Becky: The support and respect from LTOA members, particularly the executive committee and their sense of humour. Our committee meetings are never onerous because there is always lots of banter but at the same time we make a lot of decisions and keep things moving forward.,/p>

Lisa: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?

Becky: Probably still working for the LTOA. It is a vocation for me too and I enjoy it.

Lisa: What advice would you give women entering the industry or trying to progress within it?

Becky: We do not have enough women in the arb industry but the ones I know are dynamic and hard working. I would give the same advice to anyone entering the arboricultural industry regardless of who they are. Get your technical qualifications and keep building on them over the years along with practical experience. Join an organisation like the LTOA to continue with your professional development and to keep yourself updated with the latest industry developments.

Lisa: Final thoughts?

Becky: With so many cuts in local government I wish people would remember that to have a healthy population of trees you need a healthy population of tree officers looking after them!

Teachers love questions (and answers). Lisa Sanderson is a Training Developer and Lecturer for The Training Tree and an Arboricultural Consultant for Ian Keen Limited.