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Me & My Job - Owen Johnson, registrar, The Tree Register

Grow, 24 June 2011

How did you get involved in the industry? I started measuring trees when I was 14 - my parents gave me a hypsometer for my birthday. By the end of that year I'd found enough notable trees for Alan Mitchell - the famous tree recorder of the later 20th century - to visit me to see the trees for himself, which further inspired me.

What does your typical day involve? I spend a lot of time travelling the country measuring and identifying new trees for The Tree Register. Maintaining the computer database is also an ongoing role and sometimes I am able to map and catalogue tree collections on a consultancy basis. When I'm not working with trees I do a lot of voluntary practical nature conservation, including managing a large local nature reserve for the Sussex Wildlife Trust and leading two teams of conservation volunteers. I also enjoy creative writing.

Have you put a monetary value on any of the champion trees? I know that rough rules have been formulated to allow local authorities to calculate the amenity value in financial terms for trees in their care, but I'm not sure the award of champion status would add to a tree's amenity value. Garden owners and local authorities are in general very proud of any champion trees they have.

What obstacles are there in your work? The main constraint is time and energy. I've always been successful in fundraising to help cover the cost of projects. I use public transport to get about, so areas with poor transport infrastructures can be out of bounds. Obviously, I also rely on the goodwill of the landowner to be able to record private trees.

What new projects are you working on? I'm beginning a new book (provisionally titled Arboretum) that will be a more discursive study of trees and tree-growing in Britain and Ireland.

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