Founder of the Tree Warden Scheme dies
Any Tree Wardens who have been active for more than a decade will remember the leadership of the Tree Warden Scheme under the Steering Committee Chairmanship of Mike Steele, known more properly as Major General M.C.M. Steele R.A., M.B.E., D.L. After his retirement from service, he became involved in environmental action. A keen tree planter, Mike liked to be out and doing and had been involved in the BTCV Million Tree campaign, in response to the devastation of the 1987 storm. This had inspired him to consider how the enthusiasm of so many people could be harnessed and he brought the concept of volunteering for trees to The Tree Council, along with Jon Stokes, who had been working for clean-up campaign UK2000. Mike led national consultation to ascertain the characteristics of effective community action in the wake of the storm, analysing precedents and arriving at an effective model for the Tree Warden Scheme much as it operates today. Mike also engaged the collaboration of BTCV to develop and deliver the initial training programme for new volunteers.
Mike Steele continued as Chair of the Tree Warden Steering Committee from its launch on September 19th 1990 until 2003, having seen through to completion the major Tree Warden project to identify 50 Great British Trees to celebrate the 2002Golden Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen. In this role, he was a member of the full Board of Trustees of The Tree Council, serving also as Vice-Chair from 1992 and then Chair of the Trustee Board for the period 1994 – 1996. Jon Stokes remembers him as a significant influence during his own formative years at work and as someone who would use his experience and standing to support and assist those less practised.
Mike Steele was a man who understood what motivates volunteers to become involved in environmental activities, having been a keen participant himself in his home area. Under him, The Tree Council built on the core National Tree Week campaign to provide a full tree year of action-based volunteering events for Tree Wardens to rally under. Seed Gathering Sunday, as it was originally designated, preceded National Tree Week with Trees Love Care, now the Tree Care Campaign, following and Walk in the Woods month completing the cycle. He also instigated the rotation of Tree Warden Forums and was very aware of the importance of local action contributing to national policy, overseeing the launch of a succession of heritage tree initiatives that culminated in Great British Trees.
In addition to bringing Jon to The Tree Council, Mike was also responsible in 2001for interviewing and appointing Pauline Buchanan Black to the post of Director-General. He continued to be a valued adviser for her and her colleagues, just as he had been for her predecessor, Col. Robert Osborne, with whom he had also worked in earlier years. As can be seen from this short reflection on his contribution, Mike Steele had a significant impact on the achievements of The Tree Council in many ways and kept in touch with its people and activities, even during the illness that claimed him. He died, peacefully and at home, on Saturday 23rd January 2016.