Last week saw one of the most significant events in land management in recent years for the UK. It was widely advertised but its significance would have been largely lost on many people and indeed deliberately ignored by some. The Creating Landscapes show was born out of the Landscape Juice Network a project run by Philip Voice and which has irreversibly changed the landscape industry for the better.
Land management has historically and remains mainly composed of small, often one man businesses. There are numerous accreditation groups and trader schemes to which a landscaper can affiliate to, but few can affiliate to all of them if any because of the costs involved. For forestry and arboriculture it is slightly more gentlemanly and one can argue the presence of the Forestry Commission, along with more focussed attention on the needs (and safety) of the practitioner by the ICF, RFS and Arb Assoc’ rather than the client, has laid a safety net under the tree professional, (as well as of course a lack of media intervention which has done so much harm to the landscaping industry).
The importance of the Creating Landscapes show and the Landscape Juice Network is that it is practitioner based, their voice seeking what they want and in doing so shaping the industry themselves. It will be a long uphill battle, but as demonstrated by ‘mumsnet’ the power of the voice of the previously disenfranchised being able to question everything in regards to their interests via the internet will have repercussions much more revolutionary than the occupy protests but in the same vein, a subtle approach to questioning corporate power by pure online transparency.
Over 15 years ago I attended a conference with a number of others working in land industry, I forget the title but it was to do with stabilising a company in a bad financial climate. The key note speaker was a city whizz kid, clearly ill at ease in a relatively remote highland hotel but who persevered against the increasing dissent of the audience to advocate the use of withholding contractor payments, being able to discover non existent flaws in their work etc., It was the first insight I had into the new mechanisms of corporate UK and it was distasteful. He was largely oblivious to a fact that both government and unfortunately even those on the periphery of land industry, including NGO staff, also ignore; that nobody enters the land management industry to make money. It is either: a) an inherited profession or b) a love of working outdoors and a lifestyle choice – and thus a desire to protect landscapes and their biodiversity is an inherent desire.
The knowledge and skills needed to become a good arborist or landscaper requires considerable and expensive training, combined with: the huge material and equipment costs, very expensive insurance, a mountain of regulations to adhere to, a lack of any real protection from the continual influx of rogue traders or the non paying clients and a general ignorance of the merits of a practitioner by both media and policy makers – it is easy to see why many assume we are simply insane. Certainly why have we not seen a significant shift towards larger, more corporate landscaping firms? Instead many new small outfits start up annually simply due to the love of working outdoors. Many of the larger firms are increasingly dependent on an untrained workforce and maybe there is a stalemate where in reality the clients know that they are usually getting a highly professional service for the least amount of money by using the smaller outfits. The practitioner is determined to work in their chosen environment, because they cannot work in any other interior environment. But it has not meant escape from that middle management fog which regularly churns out policy, PR, and guidelines which do nothing more than slow procedure up.
The industry from an outsider seems to be dominated by the Quangos’ and land owning NGOs who have embraced corporate imagery therefore to believe that practitioners cannot be trusted is an easy opinion to form. The internet allows practitioners for the first time to tell their side of the story and it is uncomfortable reading for some who retaliate by calling them ‘mischievous’.
Simply replace the job titles of those watching Andre with a list of Quango and NGO names, (all of which of course contain the job titles prescribed) in this picture and you will get the idea of what the practitioner is up against:
Can you swap Andre’s role by a volunteer? Absolutely not but in land industry it has been consistently tried and is certainly seen as being part of a solution for sustainable forest management and land management in the UK, even going so far as to take the ludicrous step to suggest that this fulfils the social element in the triple bottom line of sustainable development.
The internet has a massive role in providing a voice for the disenfranchised and will increase as policy makers continue to close the door. And as the LJN has proved the real corporate world associated with the industry have realised this and started to endorse and even sponsor the transparent practitioner sites. When will those who mimic the corporations follow this new lead and finally learn about the industry they seek to control.