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Tom D

Some thoughts on our green infrastructure and its use as a fuel source.

 

The benefits of our urban green spaces are well documented, we know for example that they aid heat amelioration, improve air and water quality and improve urban drainage helping to prevent flooding.  They are also responsible for improving our health and well-being; encouraging people to spend more time outdoors improves physical fitness and studies show beneficial impacts on cognitive function. Trees raise house prices too: estimates vary between 5% and 30% increase in value for houses in leafy areas compared with those where trees are absent.  They also harbour urban wildlife, which again has a positive impact on our wellbeing.

 

What we don’t seem to do is consider our urban green space as a sustainable fuel resource. Yet huge quantities of our urban trees are felled every year, with the vast majority of this timber finding its way into the firewood market. So why don’t we notice this denuding of our green spaces? Well, it seems we plant an awful lot too, its hard to find figures but its pretty safe to say that we must be planting trees at pretty high rates too. Garden centres sell huge quantities of trees, shrubs and hedging every year, and these are the potential problem trees of the future, ready and waiting to be recycled as sustainable firewood….. While Mrs MacDonald at no 57 was having her overgrown tree removed Mrs Jones at No.28 has been to the garden centre and bought 3 poplar trees… The public sector plant a lot of trees too, we have planted around 500 amenity trees in parks and on streets in the last year for local authorities, and thats just a drop in the ocean overall. With the benefits of green infrastructure being well recognised planners are keen to ensure that any new projects incorporate an element of green space, and trees are usually involved. Most large infrastructure projects have a significant element of tree planting involved, and in some cases new urban forests are being created. Its easy to see a bright future for our urban green spaces.

 

So just how green are our cities? Take a look at satellite imagery of Edinburgh, there’s definitely more green than grey,or if you live in the city just climb one of the city’s many hills, heres a view looking north from Blackford hill:

 

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Looks pretty green doesn’t it?

 

So what about cutting them down and burning them? well clearly it wouldn’t be good if we cut them all down, but if managed sustainably surely our urban forests are a resource not to be overlooked in our push away from fossil fuel energy? Which begs the question; are we managing our urban forests sustainably? I would say that in my experience of Scottish towns and cities that we are. In 15 years of working in arboriculture I have not seen any noticeable change in the numbers of trees or the levels of green space in Central Scotland, The Lothians, The Borders, or any other areas that we cover, also I suspect this trend can be seen across Britain as a whole. Let me know if you think otherwise.  

 

So how much biomass fuel are our urban forests producing? And what does that equate to in terms of energy? Well again figures are hard to come by,  TD Tree & land Services have removed around 500 tons of useable biomass from the Edinburgh area over the last 12 months. If we use that as a starting point and  imagine that averaged out each of the 30 or so professional tree surgery companies operating in the Edinburgh area had removed 200 tons of useable biomass then we have 6000 tons in total. If this was broken down into 2000 tons of logs and 4000 tons of chip the monetary value would be around £500,000 once processed, not bad! That would yield around 22.2 Gigawatts of heat energy, which is a lot when you consider that Doc Brown’s DeLorean only needed 1.21GW to send it back to the future…. Actually it would probably only heat the entire city for a couple of weeks but then a couple of weeks is better than nothing an would still be a 4-5% saving on total energy used. If every city did the same then we would have gone a significant distance towards our carbon reduction targets.

 

The only question remaining is are we putting all that green energy to use? I’m not sure that we are, while most tree surgeons sell their timber as firewood most wood chip goes to composting, ending up being used as mulch on paths and allotments. In environmental terms this is a waste. It would be good to see more of this being used as a fuel source, it has its problems as such though, it tends to be of differing quality, in terms of size and consistency, as well as moisture content. None of these problems are insurmountable though, chip can either be screened or burned in boilers that can handle the uneven particle size, and chip can also be dried to a moisture content that allows more efficient burning. Until we tackle these problems though we will still end up wasting a large amount of the green energy that our urban forests produce, boiler manufacturers need to come up with boilers that can handle stringy leafy chip  Furthermore if someone built one that used spare heat to dry the chip in its chip store as it made its way through to the burner then they would undoubtedly be a top seller, in most cities tree surgeons will dump chip for free as they are keen to get rid of it, someone with a boiler that was capable of taking fresh chip and drying it before burning would likely have a free source of fuel….

 

Tom D

Arborist? Whats in a name?

Writing the text for this site has caused me to ponder, are we Arborists? Tree Surgeons? or perhaps Arboriculturalists? We are all of these things, and probably a few others as well; forester, wood cutter, lumberjack, the list goes on.  In the internet age what we call ourselves is important since people will search the net for specific terms, and we don’t want to miss out by calling ourselves tree surgeons when our customers are searching for Arborists. Analysing popular search terms has raised more questions than answers.

 

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An Arborist at work?

 

Unlike other professions we don’t have a registered name, you can’t just call yourself a chartered surveyor without being a chartered member of RICS for example, but anyone can call themselves an arborist or tree surgeon so I suppose its down to us to choose the term that best fits what we are.

 

To me an Arboriculturalist isn’t someone who chops trees down, he’s more of a boffin, a scientist who takes an academic approach to tree work, surveying trees and writing reports, analysing samples and identifying tree diseases and Fungi.  Its not a popular search term on the net so we perhaps don’t need to worry about this one.

 

I consider the Arborist as being perhaps one step down from the Arboriculturalist, academically speaking at least, he gets his hands dirty but he still knows his stuff, the O.E.D says “a scientific student or cultivator of trees” so not really the grubby chainsaw wielding type then. Although many now call themselves arborists in preference to tree surgeons, “tree surgeon” is still the most popular search on Google, with arborist coming a poor second, so while we may wish to associate ourselves with the more professional sounding “arborist” title our customers still see us primarily as tree surgeons. At least the term “wood cutter” is seldom found in the search box, although much more common in Scotland than in England and Wales apparently.

 

So whats wrong with being a tree surgeon? well there are a lot of less than professional types out there who use that term, so perhaps thats the reason we are seeing more and more arborists as companies wish to disassociate themselves from the guys who will tar your drive, fix your roof and of course cut your trees. I have always called myself a tree surgeon if anyone asks, I suspect if I said arborist I would get a lot of “so whats that then” questions, to which the reply would likely be “you know, a tree surgeon”, Perhaps “a tree surgeon with brains” would be better.  Surgeons have brains, though, especially brain surgeons, who in conjunction with rocket scientists are the bench mark by which all other professions are judged. So whats wrong with being a tree surgeon? Are there really that many cowboys out there using the term? Its hard to tell.

 

Lumberjack is still quite a popular search term on the net, more popular than arborist in fact, to me this has always conjured up an image of a bearded man mountain in a red plaid shirt walking through groves of giant trees in the pacific north west, I’m surprised it scores so highly. Up till now I hadn’t mentioned it anywhere on the site at all. Might need to change that!

 

I have lost count of the times people have said “I thought there’d be three of you… you know tree fellers Geddit!” Thankfully its only a few comedians who look for the phrase, it hardly registers as a search term.

 

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A lumberjack?

So what are we?

Our problem is some of what we do is boffinery, and some is brutish tree killing. We do carry outtree surveys and write reports, and three of our staff are degree educated, with qualifications in arboriculture, but they all climb trees and use chainsaws, some have been seen in red plaid shirts, two have beards, and one is a man mountain, none of then thankfully are cowboys. It just gets more confusing! Perhaps “Arborist” is the best catch all term for us although its clear that I will have to try and optimise the website for most of the terms mentioned above, and I’m not sure I want to tell people “I’m an arborist” I still feel like a tree surgeon.  Still this article will have hopefully increased our internet search rankings for all the terms mentioned above so perhaps thats all that matters.

 

Tom Dixon.

 

http://www.tdtrees.co.uk/

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

 

 
 
 
 

 

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