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8th August 2017

Training the trainers

Jim Mullholland

Jim Mullholland, ATF’s Training and Technical Officer, writes about this year’s three-day veteran tree training course which took place after the summer conference at Epping Forest.

For this year’s course, we took advantage of the superb setting of Gilwell Park. Bookings were up and unfortunately we had to turn some people away due to being fully booked. We were fortunate to be joined by a number of international delegates, who brought a different perspective on things.

The three-day course was developed as part of the VETree project and has been designed to give the delegates the information, skills and experience to enable them to deliver a one-day course on valuing and managing veteran trees.

Monday morning comprised an introduction to veteran trees, discussion around the ageing process, and consideration of the wide range of values veteran trees offer. During this session, delegates were treated to a brief ‘tree-yoga’ session which is used to explain natural strategies trees have for coping with external forces; i.e. a small crown which has ‘grown downwards’ and a wide, hollow trunk for secure anchorage to the earth.

Jim Mullholland


After lunch we had an outdoor exercise in which introduced surveying veteran trees. Whilst the delegates enjoyed themselves in the sunshine looking at some fabulous trees, some of the local Scout groups were put off when they wanted to use the tyre swing that was in one of the oak trees we were using for the exercise.  Back in the classroom we then looked at the importance of tree roots and soil ecology.

The Monday evening brought a guided walk around a small area of Epping Forest by Jeremy Dagley, Head of Conservation. Jeremy showed us some magnificent beech trees in the Forest and talked about ongoing management of the site. Jeremy shared his experience of what had worked, as well as what hadn’t. Delegates found this walk very informative; veteran tree management continues to be an evolving science, and it is always useful to learn from others involved with veteran trees.

Jim Mullholland


Tuesday brought an introduction to how different people learn, with delegates asked to complete a questionnaire and share the results with the group. Activist, reflector, pragmatist, and theorist are the categories used as part of this exercise. However, whilst some strongly aligned with a particular category, others were split between the two, and others showed no strong preference for any. The exercise is useful to help understand the needs of those you are training, to ensure they get the most from a course.

Following on from this, we tackled management planning by considering the management of the land around the tree, as well as whether pruning needs to be undertaken. The field visit led to some healthy debate over appropriate levels of pruning of a lapsed hornbeam pollard; some were happy to not prune, whilst others wanted to remove entire limbs, and everything in between. These open forum type discussions is what the Ancient Tree Forum is all about, and help us all to learn from each other’s experience.

Jim Mullholland


After dinner, Tuesday evening brought the chance to discuss special management techniques, such propping and bracing, as well as an opportunity for delegates to ask any questions which had arisen over the past two days. A discussion focusing on stubs left some Shigo fans wincing, but we hope they appreciate stubs can have their place in veteran tree management.

The second day is the longest, finishing at 8:30pm. However, once we made it to the end, we were treated to a magnificent electrical storm over the site which persisted for over half an hour.

Jim Mullholland


On Wednesday morning we once again delved into the world of adult learning and how to deal with difficult behaviours. Luckily we didn’t have to employ any of the techniques we were discussing, with all of the delegates enjoying the course and behaving themselves. Following on from this there was an opportunity to discuss and explain the contents of the one-day course. As delegates will be delivering the course, it is essential to ensure they are familiar with it; the three-day course is designed in such a way that the content and exercises for the one-day course are all covered during the three days, so delegates aren’t expected to deliver anything they haven’t seen themselves.

Jim Mullholland


The remainder of the day provided an opportunity to discuss some more in-depth topics including how different species respond to management, fungi and decay in trees, and populations for veteran trees. When considering how different tree species respond to management, delegates were asked to split into groups and provide a brief presentation for their selected tree species. We had some interesting presentations, including someone performing the role of an oak tree being pruned too much. The talks highlighted how different delivery techniques and approaches are valuable when training.

Jim Mullholland


As the course came to a close, we were able to discuss what delegates plan to do going forward. It was encouraging to hear from so many that they plan to run the course when they return home. With delegates from as far afield as the USA and Austria, the reach of VETree training is ever extending.

A big thank you to all of the delegates for joining us for the course, who made it a pleasure to teach. It’s always great to meet new people, catch up with old friends, but most importantly look at and discuss old trees (and continue to learn).

The next three-day Valuing and Managing Veteran Trees – an advanced course for trainers course will be held in 2018. The exact location and timing have not been finalised, but Please Contact Us Here should you wish to find out more.

Jim Mullholland

Posted by: Jim Mullholland Jim is the Ancient Tree Forum's Training and Technical Officer. He has a background in ecology and arboriculture, and has worked as a tree officer. He has a particular interest in veteran trees and bats.

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