Monday, July 9, 2007

ISA HK/China --- The Singapore Experience (Episode 3)

***Station Mail is for the information of Station Members only. Comments from outsiders are usually not entertained.***

Dear Station Members,

As promised, the Station Manager is issuing the report of the April 2007 Study Tour to Singapore within a week. There were primarily three major events that our Station has the reason to organize this visit to Singapore:

1. The chainsaw & horticultural machinery training at Outboard Marine Ltd in Singapore
2. The Regional Arboricultural Seminar organized by the National Parks Board of the Singapore Govt (Nparks)
3. The Inauguration of the Centre for Urban Greenery & Ecology (CUGE) of the Singapore Govt

There were altogether 6 participants joining this Study Tour. We have returned with knowledge & bonding with our regional partners.

Similar to all our previous reports, this report was written with factual & objective observations. Some of the contents may be challengeable & we shall leave the discussion to our Station Members, local & overseas by now. Constructive view points to be given by Station Members will be issued on public Station Mail through the Station Manager.

This report, like all others, was written with simplicity & efficiency. Enquiry for details on any part of the report can be made to the Station Manager individually.

(A) Outboard Marine Training

As shown in the diagrams given in the attachment, chainsaws were taken apart & put back again for diagnosis. The training provided here has been different from common chainsaw training & emphasized on the mechanical assembly & tuning the chainsaw into an efficient cutting tool. Comparison of different brands of chainsaws were provided, with detailed analysis on their advantages & disadvantages.

Many a times when a chainsaw breaks down on site, staff time is wasted & repair costs time & money. On the other hand, most chainsaw suppliers in HK do not provide adequate support on parts & technical advice on repair. Very few chainsaw suppliers could actually work on a tree with a chainsaw themselves. Imagine a car dealer who can't drive... Most of the time they would simply tell the customers to buy a new one for commercial reason.

There are also some interesting points learned from Outboard Marine during the training session :

1. Singapore now runs a Grade 1 to Grade 5 at their CIDB which is a regulatory body of the Govt to endorse works skill. It was learned that there are approx. 270 CIDB registered landscape contractors employing something like 3,000 workers in the landscape maintenance business at present. Landscape contracts now given by Nparks are all Direct Contract without a middle party like construction contractor for better control of quality of work.

2. Landscape contractors would receive bonus if they perform their work ahead of time & in excellence, something we used to practice in HK during our construction boom in the 1980's.

3. Outboard Marine, the largest horticultural equipment supplier serving something like 70% of the Singapore market, would provide free of charge Basic Chainsaw Training to the buyer on how to use & maintain the chainsaws after purchase. This is part of the after-sale service that is valued highly by the buyers in Singapore.

4. Because trees in Singapore practically would not stop growing any time of the year, tree pruning is big business for the landscape industry over there. Nparks require all their trees to be structurally pruned & therefore chainsaw operation has become a definite requirement. Outboard Marine alone would sell something like 400 chainsaws every year of different sizes & brands. Outboard Marine reckoned Nparks would spend close to HK$ 500,000,000 in their landscape maintenance contracts every year.

(B) Regional Arboricultural Seminar at CUGE

This is the first ever Regional Arboricultural Seminar in Asia organized by Nparks & participated by ISA organization of Singapore, Malaysia, Australia New Zealand (NZ) & HK/China. Among all the participants, Malaysia was the youngest but most acutely positive. Details given below would show that Malaysia is likely to take over HK in arbor development very soon with their strong Govt support & active civilian participation.

Altogether around 110 persons from 5 different countries joined the Seminar. Most of the participants were CA in her own country & actively joined the Seminar for regional exchange. Being on home ground, Singapore sent out nearly 90 CA to the Seminar, with Malaysia 7 no., Australia 2 no., NZ 1 no. & HK/China 1 no. Exchange on information & comparison between countries were the greatest benefit seen by the Station Manager in this Seminar. Only by standing on an international platform, one would know where his/her country would compare. Our Station has learned a great deal during the comparison indeed.

Though nothing spectacular to tell anybody about our HK trees, the Station Manager has been wrongly favoured by the Singaporean media to carry out interviews with the major English & Chinese newspaper there, plus a TV interview in English & Mandarin about our participation. The Station Manager only wished that he could promote the HK Tourism Board there too. We shall definitely love to see more Singaporean visitors coming to HK besides all the Mainlanders.

The first day of the Seminar began with technical presentation on decay detecting devices like Resistograph, Picus Sonic Detection, Tree Radar, etc. by Fujimura Europe Ltd. One disadvantage amongst all these devices is that they can only propose the extent of the decay or show where the roots are underground, but could not determine whether the inspected tree would fail or not. The data collected has still to be analyzed by the arborist to determine the tree stability. Some of the equipment would also require great skill to calibrate & operate, whereas interpreting the results involves great skills. Some of the participants simply told the Station Manager that they would prefer to continue with their hammer & drill, since they were old dogs & were shy to learn further. Isn't the world becoming more & more complicated everyday?

The first day afternoon went on with equipment demonstration on the mature trees inside the world famous Singapore Botanic Garden & it was an interesting event to watch. Despite heavy rain, the event went on with enthusiasm & many photo taking. The rain might have dampened the equipment but not the heart of the participants. All went on with efficiency & success.

The second day morning was a demonstration of the world smallest Wood Chipper made by Komatsu which was self propelling & reasonably quite. If HK would ever accept Wood Chipper at all, this Komatsu model seemed to be an acceptable choice. It was good enough to chip up to 8 inch diameter log & the wood chip would come in several sizes adjustable by scale. Best of all, it was self propelling & could go up a 15 degree slope, something fit enough for forest pruning on rugged ground. The noise was not ear drum hurting. It sounded like 90 dB only & comparable with a 14 inch chainsaw. However, the price of nearly HK$200,000 per unit would fend off a lot of buyers from HK, where they could throw the cut logs into Govt dumps instead at an insignificant cost. That's the tale of the two cities...

The second day afternoon began the important presentations from different countries & encouraging news was given by the ISA President-elect in his keynote address. ISA has now penetrated the Asia Pacific Region with success with Singapore taking the determined lead, followed by Australia, NZ & Malaysia. ISA is now the single & most influential arbor organization in all these countries. It was also worthwhile to note that the European Arboricultural Council has now recognized ISA CA to be their acceptable standard of practice & ISA CA credential is interchangeable with the EAC equivalent. That would mean our CA in HK now can fly over to Europe anytime & join their practice. This is fantastic news indeed for all those who desire to be there, since over 2 million HK residents now are holding foreign passports of one kind or another. As for the Station Manager himself, he would prefer first to polish his French, German & Dutch before entry. Otherwise, 'legumme' in French may become 'legume' in English...

Some highlights presented by the individual countries were noted as follows:

1. ISA Australia

a. ISA is now the biggest arbor organization in Australia with over 500 members after the collapse of the Australian Arboricultural Association (AAA) some years ago. There are still some fractional arbor groups here & there but they are not expected to last long.

b. Australia has its own National Standards called TAFE in practicing arboriculture & consists of Level 1 to 5 like in Singapore mentioned above. ISA credentials are a bonus to many & are popularly sought after by candidates for international status.

c. ISA Australia influences heavily on arbor policies & safety standards in Australia, & would attend board meetings & conferences on technical matters organized by the states.

d. ISA Australia is growing with promising strength & is expected to absorb all other local arbor groups gradually.

e. ISA Australia will organize an ISA Asia Pacific Arbor Conference in May 2008 in sunny Brisbane & would invite representatives from the Asia Pacific Rim to attend.

2. ISA Malaysia

a. Malaysia has a Dept of National Landscape since 1995 to look after their Greenery System like Singapore. Malaysia intends to 'green' at least 50% of the land mass as a national policy. Their Prime Minister has given positive backing to the Greenery System in Malaysia. Tree Protection Order is practised.

b. Rather like HK at present, Malaysia Govt has no position for City Forester or Urban Arborist in the Dept of National Landscape but is seriously working to set one up. Malaysian landscaping system has been traditionally occupied by landscape architects & horticulturists but individual landscape units have now begun to employ arborists for tree care. Govt administration has treasured the value of trees & would regard trees to be their national asset to be looked after by experts like arborists.

c. ISA Malaysia has been invited by the Govt to develop their national standards for arboricultural practices. Nursery Standards & Tree Management Standards are being studied. Particular attention has been paid to Tree Selection at the design process to avoid future liabilities. Rather like Singapore, Malaysian arborists do not just blindly go for flowers in the tree selection, but rather would consider the overall structure & health in designing their trees. Pruning Standard is being developed in Malaysia & Risk Assessment is following that of ISA. Malaysia is positive to follow ISA Standards in their national arbor practices, & is seen to be rather determined to catch up with Singapore.

d. Malaysia does not have many professional tree climbers at present & does not have even one no. of ISA Certified Tree Worker (CTW). However, ISA Malaysia has taken steps to begin training their CTW possibly with invited overseas trainers from Australia or through CUGE. Topping is the popular pruning method in Malaysia at present but ISA Malaysia is working with their Govt to forbid this damaging practice. The Malaysian Govt has been most receptive & cooperating with ISA Malaysia, all in favour to protect their valuable trees.

e. ISA Malaysia has organized two CA exams in Malaysia already in Jan 07 & Mar 07. The passing rate has been 23 out of 30 & 10 out of 18 respectively. So there are at least 33 CA in Malaysia by now as compared to 21 CA at present in HK.

f. Our Station Mail has been circulated to relevant Govt system in Malaysia & has been well recepted. Malaysia is keen to collaborate with regional partners to upgrade their Greenery System & is positive to connect to the world. ISA Malaysia suggested to organize an ASEAN Arboricultural Conference to share our information on tree care among the tropical/subtropical countries. Would HK be invited?

3. ISA New Zealand

a. The arborist profession ranks high in priorities in NZ immigration requirement since NZ is short of qualified arborist at present.

b. ISA NZ was formed in 1978 & their first meeting was held in a local chapel without funding & support. ISA NZ was meeting heavy resistance from other landscape professions to be an outcast for some years. Now ISA NZ is the largest arbor organization in NZ & influences heavily on national standards & practice in their country.

c. NZ has a National Certificate in Arboriculture (NCA) as a National Standard of practice in tree care & NCA is aligning with the ISA CA training in principles & training. NCA candidates would normally take their CA after getting NCA & there are currently around 45 CA in NZ only. ISA CA is regarded as a prestigious credential in NZ.

d. There are now 3 Code of Practice for arboricultural work in NZ all developed by ISA NZ & the relevant statutory bodies. NZ has not had one single case of arbor fatality in their national history as recorded, which is something the Kiwis can be very proud of indeed.

4. ISA Singapore

a. Nparks has over 900 species & 1.3 million trees in their Tree Inventory in Singapore at present. Over 1 million of their trees are managed under the GIS system. Regular Tree Inspection is scheduled for all 1.3 million trees at 12 months, 18 months & 24 months intervals. Structural Pruning is practised right after DLP in project work. Singapore has over 40 years of experience in their Tree Management Program already. Trees are regarded as the backbone of the Singapore Garden City & Singaporeans are extremely proud of their trees.

b. Nparks emphasises on science-based tree care & has started upon Failure Analysis & field-based research on species susceptible to structural failure. Survey has begun for wood strength with Fractometer to test fracture strength, fracture angle & fracture moment (MPa) for various species. Post mortem on failed trees is carried out for educational purposes in Singapore, which is something we would like to have in HK. Failed trees in HK are usually quickly removed by construction contractors for obstruction. Swietenia macrophylla (available in ETF now) has been identified to be a tree with good strength & good timber, something we might need in HK against our yearly typhoons.

c. Nparks now has 95 CA working for them in their Greenery System as Civil Servants, out of the total 125 CA practising in Singapore. CUGE is now churning out dozens of CA every year for the Govt & private sectors in Singapore, & Singapore has been taking the lead in producing CA in the region. Nparks is now encouraging their contractors to be trained in the ISA CA program to upgrade their working standard. Risk Assessment for Trees is now a standard requirement in Nparks' Tree Management Contracts.

(C) CUGE Inauguration

The Centre for Urban Greenery & Ecology, or CUGE in short, is jointly established by the National Parks Board & the Singapore Workforce Development Agency. CUGE has a critical mass of knowledge to share & advanced expertise in Urban Greenery & Ecology. CUGE provides professional skills training programs for all levels of professionals & is a national training institution of the Landscape Workforce Skills Qualifications (WSQ) system. CUGE serves as a regional repository of best practices to advance urban & green living environment.

CUGE has the vision to be a Regional Centre for advancing & sharing knowledge in the use of Greenery & Ecology to enhance urban living environment. Two major types of training programs are currently available:

a. WSQ System --- works skills training for landscape operators at the worker & supervisor level
b. Professional Certifications --- designed for landscape professionals & recognized as National Standards. Training includes Landscaping Practices, ISA Certified Arborist (CA) Program, & Certified Practising Horticulturist Program

Through their training programs, CUGE will upgrade the standard of practice for the landscape profession in Singapore. The Station Manager has not wasted the opportunity to request CUGE to consider intakes from HK, & it was said that our participation will be warmly welcomed.

(D) Conclusion

As can be seen in the events experienced in this Study Tour, all our regional counterparts are positively surging ahead in developing their local tree care practices. Everyone of them is actively involved with their Govt in determining arbor standards in safety & practice. They are all like rising sun. ISA Malaysia seems to be at a similar starting point to ISA HK/China at present but our Station admires the resources & Govt backing that ISA Malaysia is getting to the point of sour grapes, when compared to our own. We expect ISA Malaysia to do well in the race in the near future.

The value of this Regional Arboricultural Conference has been in the exchange of information between different countries. By comparing with each other, our Station has found out where we stand, although much of the future development in HK will be outside our control. If HK is to have any chance in matching with others in practising arboriculture, we really have to pull up our socks. For all those who do not agree, please come with the Station Manager to the ISA International Conference in Hawaii & see for themselves. What's good is it to compare ourselves only inward & northwards, but not to look east, south & west ??

On the other hand, our Station is truly grateful for the warm reception given by Nparks & their staff during this Study Tour. Newspaper & TV interviews were organized by Nparks to show their hospitalities for us. HK has been a shining Pearl of the East for years. Would we also shine for our trees ?

Every one of ISA Conferences has been full of education & knowledge. No beer or sumptuous seafood was served in any part of the Study Tour. In fact, the Station Manager was staying in a no-star hotel with funny cries at 4am in the morning. The flight was also the cheapest available, bumpy at times. Nevertheless, we have returned with valuable news & information. Doesn't it really all depend on what one is going to a conference for?

Would anyone care to join us for the ISA International Conference in Hawaii this July?

best regards,

Sammy Au
Station Manager

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