The MTOA was originally formed as the Midland’s Tree Officers’ Association in 1994 by a group of West Midlands based tree officers. In 2002 the East Midlands Tree Officer Group joined forces with the MTOA and in 2008 the MTOA became fully constituted. In 2009 it signed a service level agreement with the Society of Municipal Arborists and in recognition of the wider geographical base of its members; it became the Municipal Tree Officers’ Association in 2010. In 2013 the Greater Yorkshire Tree Officers’ Group joined forces with the MTOA.
The MTOA has representatives with the following working groups and organisations:
- Trees Design Action Group.
- Ancient Tree Forum.
- Arboricultural Liaison Group.
- Tree Council.
- CAVAT working group.
The following article from 2008 and published in the MTOA’s newsletter, the “Axe to Grind” by one of our long standing members, Portia Howe from Litchfield District Council, gives a light hearted insight into the origins and development of the MTOA.
1994 and All That – A Short History of the MTOA.
History is usually made interesting by the liberal addition of beheading him ‘cos he looked at me funny’, buxom serving wenches and lovable cockney barraboys all dancin’ and singin’ and shouting ‘we loves you Maaaary Poppins!’ How Jeff Marlow [formerly Wyre Forest District Council] fits into this I am not sure. But in order to keep your interest I will ask you to just keep a cheerful, dancing figure of Mr Marlow in your mind as he sits in his office in Kidderminster in winter 1994. It’s probably a miserable wet Black Country Day and Marlow is trying to think of some reason not to go out and look at another tatty park tree. Moodily stirring powdered coffee whitener into his Gold Blend an idea sleets into his head. ‘If only I had a budget big enough to sort out these poxy park trees, that Mrs Miggins would never complain again… sigh… If only I had a bunch of other tree officers to talk to … they would understand. If only we could have lots of meetings on rainy days and have an excuse not to go out.’ Fuelled by caffeine and sugar, Marlow acted on his idea – which has to be celebrated. Early in 1995 he gathered together in Kidderminster Town Hall as many of the local midland arbor officers as he could (around 60!), including the still familiar figures of Steve ‘ cos he looked at me funny’ Dores [South Staffordshire District Council], the buxom Steve Robinson [Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council], better late than never Blessington and the double act from Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council [myself and Mark Waddams]. No doubt, like the pub in London where the Krays did their infamous deed, everyone was there that day. Jeff was, have to admit, inspiring. Drawing on the Midlanders’ never too far away shoulder-chip, he asked the crowd how come the Tree Officers of London had their own group. ‘Is it not time’ he bayed, ‘for the equally magnificent but shamefully forgotten tree officers of the Midlands to have their share of glory and recognition?’
Talking to Jeff, now an AA Registered Consultant, about the beginning of the Association he told me that the impetus for the initial meeting was born of frustration.
‘I just thought – here I am struggling with these issues and ten miles away there is another tree officer no doubt struggling with similar ones, and ten miles away another one doing the same thing. And we didn’t even know each other, it was bonkers, us all working away in isolation. It seemed a good idea to share information and experience in a genuine and casual way by getting to know each other.’
The initial meeting was a success and a steering group was formed to help Jeff and (?) draw up a constitution. After that the MTOA ran a succession of meetings and training days, all arranged by the steering group – the remit being then, as now, to provide training as cheap and accessible as possible to the tree officers in the region. The Association has always been run by members for members, and some of the current Steering Group have been faithful group members ever since the start. So when you attend the training days, maybe have a think where this training day has come from, it’s just tree gals and guys who’ve given their time, in some cases for many years, to provide this opportunity. And maybe have a think about what you could contribute too…
A fair few training days took place in Himley Hall near Dudley even before Jeff passed on the chair to Mark Waddams [Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council] around 1997/8. This was partly due to Dudley MBC owning the Hall, partly because the Capability Brown designed landscape had a lot of old trees and woodlands and as the principle park for the area a lot of use – and therefore problems. Mainly, though because Mark managed to negotiate using the Hall for free. The proximity of ‘The Crooked House’ a purveyor of fine ales may also have been a factor. Pubs also figured in some of the steering group meetings… amazing we organised anything. As it was in the first few years the Association had to learn how to run itself, how to organize and deliver training days, how to communicate with members… anyone remember ‘Treebore’, the first MTOA newsletter?
The MTOA was a midlands group, covering a much wider and less defined area that the LTOA, which has always been a bit of a problem. It is pure happenstance that Jeff was in Kidderminster when he got the idea, and that the initial steering group consisted of folk from the Black Country, South Staffs, Worcester City and Shropshire areas.
Over time other steering group members have tended to come from a similar location. The Association has not deliberately been centred on the West Midlands conurbation, and efforts were made to have training days and meetings across the region. Certainly, if anyone knows of a cheap, preferably free, venue the MTOA will happily meet there. John Blessington [Shropshire County Council], stalwart treasurer for all the years, remembers one ‘twilight zone’ training day at Alton Towers in north Staffordshire ‘ We had David Lonsdale up for the day (himself slightly surreal), but the meeting room was in the centre of the children’s farm and as this was mid ‘foot and mouth’ panic it seemed like they had slaughtered everything down to the last guinea pig so as not to get included in any exclusion order …eerie. Interestingly they spent next to nothing on tree work. On the other hand we not only got the room free but we were allowed to go on the rides afterwards.’ A value for money training event that one.
After many years the Association faltered. It is after all, hard to keep something afloat purely run on volunteers, especially when the volunteers start to run thin, or as often happens, things end up resting on the same people. I tracked down Steve Dores on a golf course hoping to get my questions about the start of the MTOA answered, ‘Yeah…I did keep a file from the old MTOA black and white days’ muttered Steve, lurking behind his shades, his bodyguard twitching nervously beside him, ‘However, during the times of the recession, that is of no MTOA activity, we had an office move around and the file was unfortunately one of the things that got filed in the same way as Ministry of Defence and NHS documents. So it’ll probably be in a lay-by somewhere.’ As we can see from Steve, one of those there from the start, the ennui bit deep – the MTOA came close to utter dissolution. After a few years languishing, the Association began to reform five years ago under the chairmanship of Helen Thorburn [formerly Staffordshire County Council] and the reassembled steering group. Since Helen retired from office our very own Steve Shields [Shrewsbury Borough Council] has actively pushed the group forward aided, abetted and occasionally arm wrestled by Ian everyone’s ‘Uncle Mac’ McDermott [Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council] and Gareth ‘if you haven’t got a ticket you’re not coming in ‘Hare [Lichfield District Council].
Given the formidable mass of these gentlemen it is not surprising that the MTOA renaissance is gathering pace. There is a great deal to do – a website, a forum, training days, newsletters, steering group, regional and national representation. You are cordially invited to come and get stuck in. You might even enjoy it!
And thus, in a pork product and real ale fuelled haze, the MTOA was born.