New Forest tree expert retires after nearly 30 years

Tree officer retires

Published Friday 2 May 2014

The New Forest National Park’s Senior Tree Officer Bryan Wilson has retired after nearly 30 years protecting trees in the New Forest.

Bryan’s first role in the area was as head of the tree team at New Forest District Council just two weeks after the Great Storm of 1987 had hit.

‘I arrived to 400 handwritten notes on my desk to deal with and it meant I travelled all round the district so I got to find my way around quickly,’ he said.

‘I had been working for the Royal Borough of Kensington and the London Borough of Sutton before that and wanted to get out of the capital and what better place than the New Forest?’

Bryan moved to the New Forest National Park Authority when it was set up in 2006 and the role came full circle in 2012 when he and his team began providing tree services for the District Council as well as the Authority.

Their latest challenge was the recent series of storms and floods when the team had to issue 160 notices for urgent work to protected trees in the four months between October 2013 and January this year as a direct result of the bad weather, compared to 30 notices in the same period the previous year.

The New Forest is believed to have the greatest concentration of ancient and veteran trees in western Europe, although only half the National Park is woodland. Bryan’s role has included helping people understand more about the Forest through exhibitions, walks and talks, plus visits from foreign national parks keen to learn about the New Forest experience.

‘We are always learning something new about trees,’ he said. ‘The extraordinary connections that trees have with every aspect of life you can possibly think of – climate change, they breathe out oxygen, they help conserve water, they provide us with shelter, fodder for cattle, food for humans, charcoal for fire – everything that established modern civilisation comes from trees. Then there is the wildlife that lives in them and the fascinating world of fungi that until recent years we have had very little appreciation for. Fungi live utterly in association with trees without which the trees can’t survive and the fungi can’t survive.’

The relationship and interaction between people and the Forest over thousands of years has its benefits and challenges, Bryan said.

‘We are in an area of extraordinary historical interest – the landscape has been preserved in a manner where other parts of the country have not and so has a ring of continuity about it,’ he said. ‘The Forest has the whole panoply of environment – from valley mires to heathland, ancient woodland and coniferous woodland.

‘Trees have suffered every pest and disease since time immemorial but nature has a way of dealing with adversity - we might not have elms for a hundred years… but the main threat is the pressure from people living in, working in and visiting the Forest and the myriad of conflicting priorities.’

Much of Bryan’s role has been about negotiating with landowners and householders to get the best for them and for trees.

‘I regret to say that all too often people’s view is “Don’t get me wrong, I love trees BUT…” and we have to use a lot of personal relationship skills to try and perhaps explain how people and trees can live together without detriment to either,’ he said.

‘There are times when you can’t persuade people and they are determined that the tree must go. A lot of the time you have to use your judgement and experience to determine whether the tree is worth keeping - whether it provides a public amenity, is in good condition, or is at risk of falling and causing damage to people or property.

‘The most satisfying aspect of the job is when you persuade someone who originally saw trees as just a nuisance and expense that there are other options and that they then actually quite like trees and even might plant some in the future.’

Lime tree avenue at Hale Park
Bryan is clear about his favourite trees in the New Forest. ‘I think the most startling tree feature within the New Forest is the 1km long avenue of limes leading down to Hale Park (pictured above), which is totally man-made and a few hundred years old. Elsewhere, the ancient oak and beech look spectacular. The Forest has been preserved as such deliberately by man for a very long time – long before William the Conqueror designated it as his New Forest in 1079. So it has a number of extraordinary facets which are unique as they are all found here together.’

Bryan has worked with 10 different tree officers during his roles in the New Forest. Nik Gruber, who worked with him for 10 years in the 1990s at the District Council, now takes over his role as Senior Tree Officer.

Bryan, who retired at the end of April, said: ‘I will miss working with a wide variety of dedicated professionals dealing with a range of different circumstances which impact fairly profoundly on the lives of the residents today and the future of the Forest.’

Chairman of the National Park’s Planning Committee Pat Wyeth, who is also a District Councillor, said: ‘I have known Bryan for many years. His love of trees and commitment to detail has served him well. One could always have confidence in his decisions, whether it was a major issue or small garden tree. I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his many years of service and wish him well for the future.'

In retirement Bryan will continue his role as Church Warden for St Nicholas Church in Brockenhurst , which is believed to have one of the oldest trees in the Forest – a 1,000-year-old yew.


Notes to editors

Photo captions

1.    Retiring New Forest National Park Authority Senior Tree Officer Bryan Wilson visits one of the oldest trees in the New Forest – a 1,000-year-old yew at St Nicholas Church, Brockenhurst.
2.    Lime tree avenue at Hale Park in the New Forest National Park.

About the New Forest National Park Authority

Protect - Enjoy - Prosper

The New Forest National Park Authority’s statutory purposes are to:

  • Conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the Park - Protect.
  • Promote opportunities for understanding and enjoyment of its special qualities – Enjoy.

We also have a duty to:

  • Seek to foster the social and economic well-being of local communities within the Park – Prosper.

The New Forest National Park was designated in March 2005. Its unique landscape has been shaped over the centuries by grazing ponies, cattle and pigs which roam free. Majestic woodlands, rare heathland and a spectacular coastline provide fabulous opportunities for quiet recreation, enjoyment and discovery.

Visit to find out more.

Media contacts:
Hilary Makin, Communications Manager, New Forest National Park Authority
Tel: 01590 646608

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