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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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VETcert standard takes shape

Last Updated:  21/12/2017

The European Erasmus+ project to develop an accreditation and certification system for managing and caring for veteran trees, VETcert, has been in progress for approximately a year now. The pan-European project involves 10 partners from 7 countries who are all contributing specific skills and knowledge to different aspects of the work. There will be two certification standards, one for managing veteran trees, set at the consultant level (UK NVQ level 5–6), and one at the practising level (UK NVQ level 3–4).

As one of the two UK partners, the Arboricultural Association is taking responsibility for identifying and developing the certification and examination procedures.

The other UK partner, the Ancient Tree Forum (ATF), is taking responsibility for the development of the technical standards for the scheme and these were the subject of a five-day workshop held in November near Epping Forest.

Representatives from the Czech Republic, France, Spain, Sweden, Belgium, the European Arboricultural Council and the UK met at Gilwell Park in north London to hammer out the detail of what should be included in the standards.

A draft set of standards, prepared by the ATF, was circulated prior to the workshop, allowing partners to consider how well it met each individual country’s needs. The draft comprised 11 separate units designed to capture and define what skills a potential candidate should have and what they need to know in order to competently manage (at the consultancy level) or carry out (at the practising level) veteran tree work. The 11 proposed unit titles for the VETcert qualifications are:

  • Veteran trees; recognition and values
  • Growth, development and dysfunction of trees
  • Roots of veteran trees and the soil environment
  • Veteran trees as ecosystems
  • Veteran trees and people
  • Veteran tree survey and assessment
  • Legislation in relation to veteran trees
  • Veteran tree risk management
  • Veteran trees, urban planning and infrastructure
  • Personal skills
  • Veteran tree management

Having discussed the appropriate level of prerequisite skills and knowledge, the assembled group of 14 individuals representing 7 countries spent the week working through the proposed standards. This may sound like an impossible and potentially tedious task – 23 pages of detailed standards, examined, line by line, by committee – but it was in fact a highly engaging and satisfying experience. I certainly could not think of a better way to achieve the outcome effectively and efficiently, with so many differing positions being represented.

Imagine first trying to define concisely what knowledge must be demonstrated in a unit titled ‘Growth, development and dysfunction of trees’, for example, or ‘Veteran trees as ecosystems’ – the process of distinguishing what competent arborists would/should already know and what additional knowledge is required in application to veteran trees – and then ensure that the wording chosen can be translated into all the different languages and that procedures comply with each country’s legal and planning structure.

Occasionally we needed to remove the wet towels from round our heads and get some fresh air – Gilwell Park has many fine trees, including some notable veterans, and we were also treated to short tour around part of Epping Forest with its Head of Conservation, Jeremy Dagley (see the article on pages 66–71 of issue 179 of the ARB Magazine). Apart from these welcome breaks from the concentrated work in hand, we interacted intensively as a group to reach the week’s objective: a set of standards ready to be offered to all the participating countries as a consultation document. The consultation process will commence shortly.

It was a real pleasure to spend a week with such a well-motivated and committed group of people, all of whom happily accepted the relatively puritan standards of accommodation at Gilwell Park. I would particularly like to thank Reg Harris who has contributed his time voluntarily to ensure the UK contractor ‘voice’ is included in the deliberations. I look forward to continuing our work over the coming months. The project is due to be complete by the end of 2019.