Arborist vows independent study

ARBORIST Mike Ellison insisted yesterday that his controversial fig tree study would be ‘‘as independent as it can possibly be’’, despite admitting that his method relies on ‘‘subjective opinion’’.

Hear some of journalist Ben Smee's interview with Mike Ellison by clicking below.

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Mr Ellison developed the quantified tree risk assessment method that has condemned the Laman Street fig trees, but has challenged the four studies and said he believed the trees should stay.

The test he created is influenced by the subjective opinion of the arborist.

Mr Ellison says he comes from ‘‘the reasonable standpoint’’ and that other arborists have been too risk averse in applying the test.

He stopped short of saying the four tests conducted for Newcastle City Council were unreasonable, but said: ‘‘it appears to me that they are risk averse outcomes’’.

‘‘The important thing to recognise about [the test] is that ... subjective opinion influences the outcome,’’ he said.

Mr Ellison defended yesterday criticisms of the risk assessment method.

Save Our Figs, which paid for Mr Ellison to come from the United Kingdom, had questioned the validity and reliability of the assessments, as well as massive differences in data produced by different arborists.

Mr Ellison’s visit created controversy earlier this week when it was revealed the council had denied him access to the trees, and later when it was revealed he was being paid by Save Our Figs.

While he has formed the view that the trees should stay, he said his test would be ‘‘as independent as possible’’.

‘‘There have been a lot of nasty comments about the arborists involved, about some of the Save Our Figs people and about some of the councillors and I really didn’t want to get involved in any of that,’’ Mr Ellison said.

‘‘But when Save Our Figs contacted me a few weeks ago I discussed it with my business partner ... we came to the conclusion that it would actually be unreasonable of me, if they were prepared to pay my expenses and my fees for coming out and doing the work, then it would be unreasonable of me to refuse to do it.’’

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