On 30th June, I stepped down as independent chairman of the UK Amenity Forum after thirteen and a half years ago. Therefore it seems appropriate to just look back briefly on that time and then identify my personal thoughts on some of the priorities for the future.
Professor John Moverley
It was in 2009 when a group of representatives from amenity sector organisations invited me to take up the role. It was a time when the amenity sector could look divided and its importance and work often not clearly known. When it came to policy decisions on weed, pest and disease management in the sector, the organisations involved were often not directly engaged or consulted. I refer to it as not being at the top table, or indeed, often at that time not at any table. In summary, there was a lack of understanding at all levels and there was a lack of a joined up approach. All this was at a time when work had started on the first UK National Action Plan relating to weed, pest and disease management and real concerns were being expressed about some amenity practices.
The first task was to set out clearly the headline purpose of the Forum, in management speak, establishing vision, mission and objectives. Our over-riding purpose was, and is, to promote best practice in all its forms. Alongside this, the sector needed to promote itself, communicate what it did and get real and positive engagement with policy makers at UK and national government level. Seeking to communicate what amenity management was all about and the many facets of its work was a pressing challenge. Even the Government Minister at the time was not clear on its many facets. So was born the Swiss army penknife slide which continues to be used today.
As I am often heard to say - what happens in amenity management impacts upon every UK citizen every day seeking to create safe, healthy and sustainable amenity and sports spaces fit for purpose. During the pandemic and lockdown, never was that statement so true, keeping parks open and maintained, transport networks running and so much more.
As I write this, so much has been achieved. The Amenity Forum is now very much at the top table in decision making; its success is highlighted. It stands together, with Forum membership now encompassing every sub sector of activity. It is the go to source for guidance materials and its events for updating and the like are well supported and vital. I am immensely proud of the sector and all those professionals working within it. The sector has achieved much, the ground work has been laid and now the Forum needs to continue to build upon it. I am very confident it will, as there is an excellent team in place and I wish them every success.
Perhaps though I might identify briefly my personal thoughts on the challenges ahead and I have grouped under six headings.
Firstly the need to continue to communicate to the public, fellow professionals and policy makers is so very important. There are active lobby groups who seek to play down amenity and indeed damage what we do. We cannot ignore these.
Secondly the sector needs to stay united with everyone engaged in the Forum and committed to its objectives. It really matters.
Thirdly the sector must provide assurance to the public of its professional standards. I hope the Forum continues to lobby hard for the UK Amenity Standard to become a requirement for all undertaking weed, pest and disease management. It holds no fear to the majority already operating to the highest standards but it does help drive out bad practice and those who let the sector down. Showing the Amenity Standard badge is also excellent communication to the public of commitment to every element of best practice.
Linked to that, is the need for the amenity sector to continue to lead the way in integrated management approaches and planning (IPM).
Of course this is linked to always communicating what IPM is. It is not about alternatives, but creating plans which minimise weed, pest and disease levels and, where they occur, adopting the right combination of methods to address the issues whether this be with plant protection products or other means or indeed in combination. The sector has led the way in IPM, certainly in sportsturf. In fact it is engrained in approaches but we need to continue to emphasise that. The issues concerning carbon balance also need emphasis. Some approaches to amenity management can ignore these and should not do so.
And in my selection, perhaps the other thought from me is about continuing professional development (CPD). Whilst I am sure much CPD activity takes place in amenity, engagement in the recognised scheme administered by BASIS remains low. I have always been a strong advocate of CPD and, as said, I am sure that view is shared by many organisations in amenity, but it is not easy to demonstrate. It may not yet be a requirement under law but I believe it is so if organisations are to continue to fully demonstrate their commitment to professional standards.
Over the next few months, we expect the issue of the new revised UK National Action Plan. It has had a long gestation period and whist the Forum has had strong involvement, like everyone, we still are not sure what might be revealed. In this period I will continue to support the Forum where I can certainly in interpretation of its content and implications.
So looking back, looking forward – as I always have urged the sector, stand loud and proud of what you are and what you do but stay alert to the challenges ahead. It has been a pleasure and a privilege to have had some part in developments over the last 13 or so years.