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17th May 2016

My time at the top

by Brian Cleckner

Brian Muelaner

Brian Muelaner reflects on his six years leading the Ancient Tree Forum, in advance of stepping down as Chair at July’s summer forum, when Russell Miller will take on the role.

It’s hard to believe that it’s six years since I ‘volunteered’ to take on the role of Chair for the ATF.  I remember a conversation I had with Neville Fay shortly before becoming Chair, as if it were yesterday.  Nev had been chairing the ATF since time began, so naturally I turned to him to get some idea of what level of commitment I was letting myself in for. Nev kindly reassured me that all that it was more of a figurehead, and only involved chairing the two board meetings each year and writing the odd letter or two and the Chair’s annual report to Companies house.  And for some reason I believed him!

It turned out to involve a little more than that, but it’s been an incredible honour and privilege and one of the most fulfilling roles with which I’ve had the good fortune to be involved.  What’s been achieved over the past six years is quite mind boggling, all made possible by a massive team effort. One of the great strengths of the ATF is the enthusiasm, knowledge, skills and commitment of its extended board, the Trustees, the Co-opted members and our limited staff.

by Brian Cleckner

Brian Muelaner

Here’s a brief summary of some of the milestone achievements which have taken place over the last six years:

  • The ATF published its first book Ancient and other veteran trees: further guidance on their management, which has been so popular that the first print run sold out and we printed an additional 1,500 earlier this year.
  • It was decided that we needed documents outlining our core objects so a Strategic Plan was produced putting into one document the ATF’s vision, its mission, our aims and the issues.
  • Leading on from this a business plan was created identifying how we were going to fulfil our aims and objectives over the coming years.
  • In addition to the two field meetings in spring and autumn we introduced the two day summer forum which combines conference-like presentations from diverse leading specialists during the morning session followed by the more traditional field visits looking at stunning trees set in parklands and wood pastures. These events have proved very popular and are regularly over-subscribed.
  • The development of working groups eg one on pests and diseases produced an ATF statement on Chalara.
  • The ATF together with other organisations successfully applied for VETree, a two year European Leonardo De Vinci grant in partnership, with Sweden, Belgium, Spain and Romania to develop two ancient tree management courses:A basic one day course and an advanced ‘train the trainer’ three day course.  The ATF’s part in the project was to develop and deliver the training as the ATF is recognised throughout much of Europe as the leading expert in ancient tree management.  As part of the project the two courses were translated into five languages and delivered in each of the five countries and the Ancient and other veteran trees book was translated into Swedish, Flemish, Romanian, Spanish and Basque.
  • The ATF employed its first employee, Helen Read, as the VETree officer for two days per week for two years to develop the course syllabus and deliver the training together with Vikki Bengtsson, a trustee of the ATF but also one of the Swedish partners in the project. Helen was soon to be followed by Luminita Holban, employed under the VETree project to translate course material into Romanian.
  • Another successful grant application, this time from the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation, allowed us to employ Hannah Solloway, as a Development Officer for four days a week for three years. Suddenly, if temporarily, the ATF was a major employer with three employees!  Luminita’s contract ended once she completed the translations.
  • We created a Concordat which set out the ATF’s vision and aims and asked other organisations who share our commitment to the care and protection of ancient trees to acknowledge this by signing the document. To date the following UK organisations have signed the document: National Trust (photo of Concordat signing at the Ankerwycke Yew below), Municipal Tree Officer’s Association, Ancient Yew Group and Arboricultural Association.
by Chris Knapman

Dame Helen Ghosh of the National Trust, and Brian Muelaner seal the ATF’s Concordat at the Ankerwycke Yew in June 2015

  • Having the Development Officer in post provided the capacity to develop a new website (previously the Woodland Trust generously managed one for the ATF).  Having ownership of our own website has allowed us to be much more interactive, producing regular blogs and newsletters which we can cascade through our emailing list (currently around 2,200 people).
  • It was decided our much loved logo had become outdated and could be improved so we employed a designer to upgrade the design for our new website, which eventually became a unanimous hit.
  • Board members decided that we needed a social media presence which has proved exceedingly popular, with over 4,700 followers on Facebook and 5,000 on Twitter.
  • There has been a steady development of regional and local sub-groups (we now have 9 groups established or forming across Scotland, Wales and England).
  • We have responded to countless policy documents within the four devolved countries, often in collaboration with the Woodland Trust, with whom the ATF has had a long special relationship, indeed their support was crucial for the ATF’s early development.
  • In accordance with our growth and increased activities, we have improved the governance of the organisation, for example by updating our governing document, and developing a number of policies.
  • Most recently we recruited Jim Mullholland as our Training and Technical Officer for two days per week with secure funding for the next two years, but hopefully we will be able to find additional funding to maintain the post indefinitely.

I am now preparing to hand over the torch to my successor, Russell Miller, who  replaces me as Chair in early July at the end of the Summer Forum in Dorset.  I will continue to be an active Trustee, but look forward to letting someone else have the great pleasure of managing this wonderful institution.

Posted by: Brian Muelaner Brian is a trustee and former Chair of the Ancient Tree Forum. He worked for the National Trust for 27 years until 2014, most recently as their Ancient Tree adviser, and has extensive knowledge of wood pasture and parkland sites across England.

2 Comments | Leave a Comment

  • Jan Allen says:
    Posted May 23, 2016 at 10:39 am

    It is a pleasure and inspirational to read about the recent achievements of the ATF. Your group has provided us (Veteran Tree Group Australia Ltd) with inspiration to establish our own advocacy group for Australia’s ancient and veteran trees. We have quite a way to go before we can match your shoe size but we aspire to your effectiveness and will continue to view ATF activities and developments with ongoing interest. Great work Brian.

    • Brian Muelaner says:
      Posted May 31, 2016 at 8:28 pm

      Hi Jan
      Thanks for your kind words, although I really can’t take the credit for the achievements, it has been made possible by a great group of dedicated volunteer enthusiasts as well as the more recent members of staff. Several years ago I was in contact with someone from Queensland and they provided me with a link to an amazing inventory of trees of significance in their territory which was really amazing. It was before the Ancient Tree Hunt’s inventory was produced over here it gave me a real appreciation of some of the trees in one part of Australia.


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