17th May 2016
My time at the top
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.
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.
- 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.