As the group leader you are responsible for carrying out a risk assessment for the sample site. For most schools there will be suitable trees either in your school grounds or a local park. You should make a preliminary visit to the site and identify potential hazards in advance of any field work, and become familiar with local conditions and facilities.
On your preliminary visit there are several things that you should be looking for:
Assess whether the tree has a girth >50cm at chest height. If it is less than this then it should be safe but still avoid working near the tree in high winds or extreme weather. If larger than 50 cm girth you will need to carry out a visual survey of the tree.
Carry out the visual survey.
- Examine the tree to see if any branches are hanging loose.
- Look for any disease. This may be indicated by unexpected leaf loss, early or strange discolouring of leaves or fungal fruiting bodies growing from the tree. If these factors are present then the tree may be stressed and need further investigation or a different tree should be found.
- Avoid any trees where damage may have occurred, for example, if a rope swing is present or any signs of scaring from where a limb has fallen. Are there any trees around of the same species that have fallen which may indicate the health of the tree?
- Has the tree been subject to exposure or extreme conditions? If the branches are all on one side it may have an imbalanced structure. Avoid these trees if possible.
- Find out if possible whether there have been any dry periods or problems with the tree in the preceding 12 months. If there has it may be more liable to shed a limb or even fall unexpectedly. Usually trees in public areas are assessed regularly.
Identify and record any safety concerns you have with the tree.
Repeat any visual survey after autumn or after any extreme weather event.
If you are unhappy with a tree then never work with it. It is always better to be safe!
If the winds are stronger but you are happy for students to work under the tree you can always give them hard hats in case any twigs fall.
A first-aid kit should be taken out into the site, along with a mobile phone. A map is also useful, especially if the site you are using is away from your school grounds.
If students are sampling trees in their own homes, make sure their parents are aware of the project and what their children are doing.
We do not advise you to work on your own. Take a responsible friend who can help with your survey, and in case things go wrong. Make sure that you know what to do in an emergency. Ensure that you have performed a risk assessment where applicable.
Be aware and avoid hazards around trees such as roots, low-hanging branches and falling branches. Cover any cuts or open wounds before starting the activity. Take special care when working around trees to avoid getting twigs in the eye. Do not damage any tree, its twigs or branches. Be careful not to disturb other plants and local wildlife. Ensure that you have permission from the land-owner to survey trees on their land.