Published onJuly 9 2019
Mark Chester at the Consulting Arborist Society had a catch up with Michelle Ryan to find out all about her story in arboriculture for our sixth edition of 12 Faces of Arb.
Many thanks to Mark for sharing this article featuring Michelle Ryan, consultant and Chair of the Women in Arb group.
Meeting with Michelle
In 2017, a group of arborists, members of the Arboricultural Association’s Education and Training Committee were meeting to discuss activities when the matter of the upcoming International Women’s Day was raised. Was the association doing anything to mark the occasion? And if not, could they do something? Emma Hall, who is part of the team at the Arboricultural Association, had a quick chat with Stewart Wardrop, the association’s Chief Executive. Would he endorse this? Stewart’s ‘can-do’ approach meant endorsement and the start of a journey. A new group, Women in Arboriculture, was formed, with Michelle Ryan as Chair. I was keen to find out more of her journey.
“Having grown up in the urban setting of Bradford in West Yorkshire, the idea of a career working with trees was not on the horizon…”
Like so many of us, Michelle left school with little idea of what she wanted to do. Having grown up in the urban setting of Bradford in West Yorkshire, the idea of a career working with trees was not on the horizon. Instead, Michelle explored a variety of roles including, like some of the candidates on The Apprentice, trying professional ironing! Then came a turn at gardening, and an appreciation for plants began. She was encouraged to take a BTEC National Diploma in Horticulture. This included a module in arboriculture, and soon she was hooked. National Diploma completed, it was off to Myerscough College for the BSc in Arboriculture.
Michelle relished the technical elements of the course. The earlier modules were shared with Foundation students, and contained practical elements, including climbing and use of a chainsaw. These were enjoyable for her, although of less importance than the theory. One aspect was notable; at the start of the course, of the twenty or so students, there were only two female representative Michelle and Jo Hamilton. Both completed the course, along with seven men.
Michelle also remembers attending her first Arboricultural Association Amenity Arboriculture Conference, and there being only five or six female faces among the audience of 400! It was, she recalls, daunting. Having graduated, the lack of funds and no transport meant the need to generate funds was urgent and the first position was running an office for a firm of solicitors. However, once she could afford a car, she was applying for arboricultural positions. The position of Arboricultural Technician at Jonathan Cocking & Associates was being advertised and Michelle was appointed. She was now travelling the area, surveying trees for planning applications and safety assessments. She loved it.
A move to Cheshire, and working at a more senior level, came 18 months later, when she joined Tyler Grange. This time, she was the sole specialist. Working for a firm of Landscape Architects and Ecologists, the focus was on planning, and so all of her time was spent on potential development sites. She enjoyed this, and also helping to develop the arboricultural unit. However, the appeal of working for a larger, was growing. She worked alongside specialists working for AECOM, and when an opening came, after 22 months with them, she applied. And was successful. She was now based in Hampshire.
Now, Michelle found herself working on planning applications, condition surveys for Transport for London, surveys for housing associations, and even surveying work for Highways England around Stonehenge. The work is varied, and there is much to be done. The arboricultural team has expanded from her and one colleague to eight. And there is work to keep the team busy. But Michelle loves it.
And in 2018, her submission to become a Professional Member of the Institute of Chartered Foresters was successful. Her Critical Analysis was based on persuading a client to retain trees ahead of submitting a planning application, rather than removing around 80% of the sites treestock in advance.
Keen to contribute, in 2017 Michelle joined the Education and Training Committee of the Arboricultural Association. Appreciating the challenges that women face entering our profession, she began working with the Association to form the new working group, which she was soon chairing. And juggling the demands that this makes. The group was launched at the 2018 ARB show, and the response demonstrated both its need and support for it.
“Michelle is determined to encourage more women into arboriculture, to raise its profile among the next generation…”
A team was assembled to support development work, and the pace has been frenetic. At the end of February 2019, a Forum was established to encourage discussions and dialogue. Michelle has also been to Myerscough College to attend a careers exhibition and meet students. The opportunity to mentor is also being explored.
During 2019, the contributions of twelve women in arboriculture will be highlighted, with Emma Schaffert of Bartlett’s Research Laboratory being in the spotlight for January. These contributions will be shared with the CAS audience in the months to come. Michelle brings energy and enthusiasm to this role. She has brought this to the groundswell of good will, and the outcome should be really positive.
One aspect of Michelle’s journey intrigued me. Like me, she focused on the technical aspect of arboriculture. Practical arboriculture has a presence of those who are particularly competitive in physical work and the ability to climb well. At the National Tree Officer conference in Telford in November, delegates were addressed by a member of the Women in Arboriculture team who spoke of competing with men at the physical work. What were Michelle’s views on this?
Michelle is remarkably refreshing and candid. She knows what she is good at (technical arboriculture) and where her strengths are. Climbing is not a strength. She focuses on her strengths, and excelling at them. She also recognises that, armed with a degree in arboriculture from Myerscough College and having recently attained Chartership, she will meet others whose knowledge and credentials are greater. This is a part of life, and she accepts it. Her focus is to do what she can, and enjoy her work.
The ability to develop a team, and do something worthwhile, is within her strengths. Michelle is determined to encourage more women in to arboriculture, to raise its profile among the next generation, and to provide those making the first tentative steps with a smile and a warm welcome. Her view is that if you love working with trees, there should be a career opportunity for you.
I look forward to seeing the fruits of Michelle’s labour, and to regularly feature updates on her work.
Mark Chester runs the Consulting Arborist Society, which supports aspiring and practicing tree consultants in their professional development through accredited training, and promotes their services to the wider audience. He edits the society's member magazine.
Mark runs his own consultancy, Cedarwood Tree Consultants. Mark has written a biography on Peter Wells, founder of Barcham Trees: White Containers, the Peter Wells Journey.