Australia needs a national tree standard that can be adopted by all stakeholders including Landscape Architects and Designers, Landscape Contractors, Nurseries and clients responsible for public spaces, namely Councils and Government Organisations. It will help distinguish good quality tree stock from substandard stock.

The National Standard for Trees is expected to be finalized and endorsed by Standards Australia in July 2014. It is hoped that the standard will offer concise criteria in which to discern a good tree from bad. The terminology is important here; currently some States draw on Natspec – a guide to assessment of tree quality, while other states seem to rely on Landscape Architect specifications. No matter the source they continue to suffer from imprecise interpretation. Existing guidelines are not without their good points which should make their way into the superseding National Standard.

This is a chance for all industry stakeholders to have their say and help to shape a truly National Standard. In doing so all parties should have buy-in which means we are all on the same page, or at least closer to it. A committee made up of representatives from Arboriculture Australia, Australian Council of National Trusts, AIH, AILA, Australian Pipeline Industry Association, Australian Property Institute, Institute of Australian Consulting Arborists, Local Government Tree Resources Association, NGIA, Parks and Leisure Australia, TAFE NSW and University of Melbourne, has been formed and began proceedings with a kick off meeting in March this year. The committee has 16 months from the initial meeting to finalise the standard, this includes rounds of public review.

A maximum of 2 persons from each industry stakeholder group can participate on the Standards Australia committee. Due to the impact of this standard on nurseries the Nursery and Garden Industry of Australia (NGIA) has formed a national steering committee (NTSSC) with the purpose of mobilising the major tree growing nurseries from each state to develop a shared view with respect to the direction of the standard.

Participating nurseries agreed on two threshold factors. The standard should continue to push nurseries to improve and grow the best quality trees possible – which will also help to weed out inferior/back yard growers. Second, the criteria needs to be realistic considering trees are a living product. The steering committee met earlier this year in February and again in May. The view of this steering committee is represented by Dr. Anthony Kachenko from NGIA and Tony Green who are both on the official Standards Australia committee.

I anticipate a major challenge lies in defining the “testing method/s” included in the Standard. I believe an accreditation scheme and auditing process should be established by which a nursery will be required to provide evidence of appropriate production practices, systems and policies along with sample batches for testing by an independent auditor. An accredited nursery would need to undergo auditing annually to uphold accreditation. The alternative is to continue with assessment of individual batches on a job by job basis which, in my opinion, is counterproductive and ultimately means we haven’t moved forward.

Peter Knox and I are members of the NTSSC and look forward to continuing to contribute to this long overdue issue and sharing more information with you as it becomes available. For further information also check out Your Levy at Work.