Apocalypse now? Dave Crispin, senior arborist at Treeswest Australia and Arb West committee member, sounds a warning bell about the situation in Australia’s west, while at the same time seeing a very bright future for arboriculture in WA.
“I love the smell of napalm in the morning.”
Who can forget that epic line by Robert Duvall in the classic film, Apocalypse Now? He’s standing on the beach, with a burning, devastated landscape behind him. There’s horror as everything is flattened and laid bare.
You may think this analogy is a little extreme, but the clear felling of hectares of land for new sub-divisions and developments is becoming a common sight in urban and peri-urban suburbs around Perth as the push for more housing increases.
It’s undeniable: Australia is experiencing a housing deficit.
To build more homes, more land and blocks need to be developed, and unfortunately, this is generally at the expense of trees. Perth is no different. The city is struggling to house a growing number of people. According to the latest figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Australia’s population has increased by 2.3 per cent on the previous year.
Like most other state industry bodies, Arb West is committed in its advocacy for greener urban and rural environments. Members work closely with all tiers of government, civil companies, urban planners, and other stakeholders in an advisory capacity on tree-related matters. The association stands for pro-responsible environmental development.
It’s a fact that Perth has the lowest canopy cover out of any major capital city in Australia. Aerial mapping specialists Nearmap revealed Perth had 16 per cent urban tree-canopy coverage, compared to Melbourne’s 30 per cent, 44 per cent in Sydney, and a huge 79 per cent in Brisbane.
SGS Economics & Planning did a case study for the Department of Planning, Lands and Heritage, and used a typical Perth, medium-density scenario in a middle ring suburb. If an established single-storey dwelling on a large block was replaced with a triplex development, the following was forecast:
• A loss of existing established trees, leaving little or no space to plant new ones • An increase in impermeable surfaces like brick, paved, or concrete driveways added to the heat-island effect, and
• High site coverage with the dwelling footprint taking up the majority of the block. There would be little opportunity for passive heating and cooling due to narrow eaves and poor solarpanel orientation, and the study also mentioned the loss of private, open space, mainly ending up as a brick-paved courtyard, with little or no interaction with the neighbours.
The mental-health implications would also be a consideration, with feelings of isolation or detachment.
A concerned western-suburbs resident who watched local property developers clear several local blocks leaving nothing but sand decided enough was enough. The Western Australian Tree Canopy Advocacy (WATCA) group was born.
The not-for-profit group consists of landscapers, local councillors, government employees, marketing executives, arborists, and a range of other white- and blue-collar workers – a healthy cross section of society.
The aim of the association is focused on increasing Perth’s pitiful canopy cover, from 16 per cent to 30 per cent by 2040. Since the groups inception in 2022, 23 affiliated groups in localgovernment areas have signed up to campaign for policy change in favour of greater canopy coverage in their respective communities. Arborists need to be a part of this conversation. We are fully conversant with the many benefits trees offer, and we have the ability to construct a compelling argument in favour of tree retention.
Tree-canopy advocacy is in our DNA, we have the knowledge and expertise to educate.
Recently, at a careers expo for senior secondary-school students, Arb West signed up for a modest stall that attracted a healthy cohort of young people, eager to learn about the treecare industry. Our lead at the event was Arb West event co-ordinator, Jolyon Elliott. Jolyon, aka ‘Joly’, had a team of enthusiastic – I use that word loosely – volunteers for the three days, all of whom made it a resounding success. I also have to thank our sponsors who made it possible: Interlink Training, Western Power, Vermeer, and Westside Insurance Specialists. Without their input our participation at this event would not have been possible.
The expo was primarily targeting young people, so we used Arb West’s short new video, professionally shot and edited, playing on a loop, and several recent photographs showing both male and female climbers. Bright, colourful, informative, brochures giving advice on the next steps and who to contact were well received.
Learning from previous events, we avoided giving away ‘showbags’, as some only come over to pick up free merch without even stopping to have a conversation. Our stand offering has changed over the years. Gone are the days (thank goodness) of sticking a Stihl 066 or 088 on top of a trestle table and hoping it impresses the hell out of everyone.
When asked what sort of conversations were had, Joly explained there was a definite increase in interest now that arboriculture is recognised as a trade profession. Visitors to the stand saw the benefits of completing the apprenticeship and, at the conclusion, walking away as a qualified tradesperson. When asked about the level of enthusiasm, Joly said, “The litmus test was asking them if they were keen to work outside.” Those who answered ‘yes’ then went on to speak about their passion and desire for working with trees and caring for their environment.
A 50-50 gender split on enquiries about becoming an arborist was encouraging.
Arborists of tomorrow
Every business owner, regardless of industry, is struggling to find labour in this current economic climate. Australia as a whole is experiencing unprecedented levels of job vacancies, and there’s been a sharp increase since March 2020. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reported 438,500 job vacancies in February 2023, and 25 per cent of businesses stated they couldn’t find enough staff. In Western Australia, we have almost 53,000 job vacancies – twice the number prior to COVID. One in five businesses struggles to find workers.
Faced with this stark reality one of our members decided it was time to be proactive. He reached out to local schools and colleges to gauge interest and to try and future proof his business. Buoyed by the interest shown from the recent expo, he was cautiously optimistic he would fill a three-day ‘Introduction To Arboriculture’ course.
He needed twelve students to make it viable. The response was overwhelming. He had the numbers to run three, three-day courses over three weeks, with, wait for it – 15 students in each course. Forty-five students participated in an introductory workshop, covering two Cert II units.
The architect behind the initiative was Arb West member Paul Harrison, from Beaver Tree Services.
Paul, in collaboration with Steve Hayes, Interlink Training Services, Luis Puig, Manager Economic Development & Advocacy of the City of Armadale, and Arb West, all worked tirelessly to make this very positive outcome.
We have many young people passionate about their community and environment rising up through the ranks. With their understanding of the need for sustainable development coupled with modern technology and artificial intelligence, I view the future of arboriculture through optimistic eyes.
learn more about Arb West at arbwest.com or on the Arb West Facebook page.