NWR Ruling – Are there more questions than answers?

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Social media and the industry is “awash” with regurgitation of the news that Network Rail have lost a case relating to Japanese knotweed, with words like “game changer” being used. However, nobody seems to be elaborating further what this could potentially mean and the issues it could have.

Let me start by saying I do on the whole welcome the news, NWR as a land owner should be taking their responsibilities seriously and in an ideal world treating and eradicating Japanese knotweed, but is that realistic? Well let’s look at some numbers.

There are 16,000km of railways in the UK and it’s safe to assume that much of that is infested by Japanese knotweed. As embankments are on both sides then this is 32,000km of potential habitat. Even if we are unrealistically cautious let’s just say that 10% of this has JK or other schedule 9 vegetation present. The embankments are on average at least 5m so simple maths is 32,000km x 1000m x 5m / 10 = 16,000,000 sqm of areas potentially contaminated with JK. In my experience the cheapest economy of scale we have given for a commercial eradication program worked our around £4 per sqm, so the cost of eradication of this would be £64,000,000.00!!!!

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However, it doesn’t stop here, back to the news story not only was treatment required but the court awarded the costs of an IBG which added £5,000 to the bill, no admittedly this seems a crazy cost but if it included a monitoring program and there was risk of re-infestation from up rail then certainly a £2,500 cost is realistic. Now calculating this would be nearly impossible but I’ve started with this number game now so let’s make some more assumptions. If we have 32,000km then 90% of this would be rural I expect, but 10% again would be urban and near the tracks. Interestingly it is these areas that are much more likely to have JK present. So let’s say there are properties near 3,200km of track, each property is in the region of 10m wide so that could be 320,000 properties. Insurance backed guarantees for these would cost £800,000,000.

So it’s simple really, NWR have to put a strategy in place to avoid being sued to treat 16,000,000 of knotweed and issue 320,000 insurance backed guarantees. They should do it straight away because the problem is only going to get worse. All they need is £864,000,000 to do it. Oh and 1 guy can probably only treat 100 sqm per day because of closures and such so if they employed 100 people to start tomorrow then it would only take 5 years, oh but then it’s probably a 5-year program so 10 years with an annual cost of £86,000,000.

Now these numbers are all essentially complete guesswork, but what it does do is show the position Network Rail are in and probably why they have to take the stance they do. I may be in the minority who has some sympathy for them, however, perhaps the stance over legalities is because of the impact this would have on the cost of maintaining the network and not just because they don’t care. In fact, in my experience its quite the opposite. A NWR representative has been present at every conference, workshop or symposium relating to Japanese knotweed but the honest answer is that it’s too far gone to be able to do anything than manage what is in front of you the best you can.

I can’t see personally that increasing the exposure and costs of treatment with legal rulings is going to help the situation, however, I also do not in any way support a slackening of the law, all I ever seem to do is promote maybe a middle ground where landowners are expected to do something but that this is supported by mortgage lenders, developers, contractors and homeowners and just doesn’t turn into another mis-selling scandal. The day I get a text message or listen to talk sport and hear an advert for JK lawyers is the day I turn in my knapsack*

*NB I don’t have a knapsack, the reference to a knapsack was purely for effect.

Unilever Small Employer of the Year Award Goes to…. Ebsford

Ebsford Environmental Ltd has been honoured at the National Apprenticeship Awards following our regional success at Octobers North East, Yorkshire and Humber event.

 

Ebsford were invited to the National Apprentice Awards ceremony held at the London Grosvenor Hotel. We were extremely proud to be announced as the winners against some other great employers. The award was presented to us in recognition of our commitment to developing young people through apprenticeships.

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We have also been named in the prestigious Top 100 Apprenticeship Employer list. This is compiled annually by the National Apprenticeship Service and recognises excellence in businesses that employ apprentices.

 

Having begun our apprentice program in 2011, seven of our 29 staff are or have been apprentices in the business occupying roles within marketing, customer services, administration and environmental conservation.

 

We are very proud of our achievement, it is great reward for the dedication our apprentices have shown and for the commitment we have made to nurturing all our employees. We look forward to further developing our apprentice and graduate schemes as the business continues to grow.

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On accepting the award, Nick Hartley, Managing Director, Ebsford Environmental Ltd, says: “We started offering apprenticeships shortly after we set up the business in 2011 and so far we have a 100% retention rate. Offering apprenticeships has enabled our business to grow rapidly from £50,000 in the first year to £3 million a year turnover.

 

“It’s not just the business that benefits, as an environmental company we want to show we are committed to the local community and make our workforce sustainable. Through offering structured training we can ensure sustainable growth of the business whilst simultaneously improving youth unemployment in the area.

 

“We believe apprenticeships are one of the best and most rewarding ways of finding staff; you are changing people’s lives in a way that you don’t get just by giving someone a job. As a business owner you are recruiting young people at a crucial stage in their development, especially in socially deprived areas and using that is a fascinating way to grow the business.”

2016 in Ebsfordland

When the dust had settled in 2015 and we had time to breathe and reflect on what was an extraordinary year of growth and learning, I think all our staff, managers and directors had a similar conclusion. “This year will be impossible to top”.

Well….. we were wrong.

This year has been very much one of technological and quality advancements in Ebsford with a significant amount of works completed behind the scenes to ensure that we continue to offer our clients the best systems of any contractor in the UK.

We have increased our staff throughout the company, in Q1 we selected our 2016 Graduate program employee and have continued the growth of our award winning apprenticeship program steadily through the year, maintaining our commitment to a workforce that consist of >10% graduate or apprentice staff. Some old friends returned to the fold after travelling the world and have been complemented with recruits in Operations, consulting and the finance and back offices.

The addition of core staff has enabled us to continue the improvements to our quality, with dedicated auditors now re-enforcing our commitment to health, safety and the environment. Improvements to our systems saw us achieve Achilles recognition in Q1, something that is crucial to our aquatic and utilities clients. This culminated in Ebsford achieving the standards required for ISO9001, 14000 and 18000 in November. Not only are we all incredibly proud of this but we are delighted to be able to skip some of the questions in the vast amount of tenders we seem to be completing.

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Tenders have certainly been a key word of the year within our aquatics department. We have secured over 70% of the tenders we have applied for and completed some inspiring and challenging projects. These have included the largest full weir removal ever undertaken in conjunction with SEPA, RAFTS and Royal Haskoning. A project that was 3 years in the making and had to be completed within 12 weeks of award!!! 2016 was also the year we moved into larger scale open space works on a project to restore elements of Cherry Hinton Park, home of the annual Cambridge Folk Festival. This saw us expand our ecological and aquatic knowledge to include more traditional civil engineering and soft/hard landscaping works.

Our core aquatic works continue to increase also, a number of projects have been completed on the minor works EA framework with our partners and our IDB projects have now been increased to include Public Sector Co-operation Agreement (PSCA) works.

The world of Schedule 9 invasive species appears to be finally accepting some regulation and accepting how serious some of the issues are. We continue to work closely with the PCA and INNSA to make sure contractors are managed appropriately. Much of the year has been spent discussing key issues with our development clients who are facing increased pressure to provide acceptable guarantees. Our positioning on both managing trade associations has enabled us to secure further large schemes and our reputation as pioneers of screening technology continues to be proven with 2016 being another year that saw us process >10,000m³ of Japanese knotweed contaminated material.

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As you can imagine from reading this, we are all ready for a break now. The rest may be short-lived though as 2017 already includes a full Q1 workbook with projects for the Watchtower Society and also the largest mobile Enviroscreen 20-20 Japanese knotweed remediation scheme ever undertaken on an iconic site in Alderley Edge.

Despite all of our *exciting* schemes, we are still proud to remain an SME and a family business though. This means that we couldn’t do any of these things without the support of everyone we come into contact with. Our staff have been incredible again and are a real credit to us. They prove to our clients on every project they complete that they have made the right decision. But we still appreciate every opportunity no matter how small or where in the country it is, so a heartfelt thanks to everyone who chose Ebsford this year.

And a final thanks to all the friends we’ve made and built relationships with. The consultants who have helped prove our concept. The suppliers who (mainly) have supplied excellent products and services. The communities, schools, organisations and people that we have engaged with to deliver our schemes in a way that meant something to you and that respected the environment in which we work.

So whatever you are doing over the Christmas break, all at Ebsford give you thanks and hope that you can reflect back, knowing that in 2016 you made a difference, and if you can’t then don’t worry. There’s always 2017!!!!!

Ebsford Environmental wins at National Apprenticeship Awards 2016 regional ceremony

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Ebsford Environmental Ltd has been announced as a winner at the North East, Yorkshire and the Humber National Apprenticeship Awards 2016 regional ceremony.

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Jemma Scott & Gemma Reevell, Level 3&2 Diploma Apprentices in Business Administration

The Awards, now in their thirteenth year, are run by the National Apprenticeship Service and recognise excellence in two areas: businesses that grow their own talent with apprentices and apprentices who have made a significant contribution to their workplaces.

Ebsford won this award in recognition of their contribution made to apprenticeships, something the business is passionate about and would like to develop further into the future.

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Small Employer of the Year Award 2016

On winning, Nick Hartley said:

“Since Ebsford was formed in 2011, Apprenticeships have been at the very core of our employment ethos. As an environmental contractor it is important to us not just to improve our landscape but to offer young passionate people the opportunity to learn new skills and develop them both professionally and personally. We are proud of our track record and currently 20% of our workforce is made up of staff who have been through or within an apprenticeship ranging from customer service, business admin, environmental conservation and marketing.

We are committed to continuing this ratio as the company grows and are more than aware of the crucial role our apprentices play in our growth and the way we are perceived in the industry. To be recognised for this commitment by winning this award is something that cannot really be measured. It is testament to their drive, hunger and passion and this award should be something each one of them is proud of for years to come.”

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Jemma and Gemma with Gill Hartley, Apprenticeship Manager

Sue Husband, Director of the National Apprenticeship Service, said:

“The National Apprenticeship Awards enable exceptional apprentices and dedicated employers to receive the recognition they richly deserve. Apprenticeships enable people to gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed – in some cases up to degree level; and for businesses to grow the talent they need.

Ebsford Environmental has won the Small Business award for their region and I would like to congratulate them on their achievement. Winning this award is greatly deserved. There has never been a better time to become an apprentice or employ one.”

To find out more about the National Apprenticeship Awards, please visit https://www.gov.uk/government/topical-events/national-apprenticeship-awards

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RIVER ECOLOGY IMPROVEMENT SCHEME STARTS

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The Rivers and Fisheries Trusts of Scotland (RAFTS), in partnership with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) and Galloway Fisheries Trust (GFT) has started work to remove a barrier to fish migration and improve the river ecology of the Old Mill Burn and Tarff water in Dumfries and Galloway.

The aim of the engineering work is to improve fish passage along the watercourse by removing an old unused weir and restore a more natural river channel. The dis-used Creamery Weir and sluice gate, at the Creamery Building on the Old Mill Burn, near Twynholm, presents a complete barrier to migrating fish species.

For fish such as Atlantic salmon, sea trout and lampreys, free passage between the ocean and freshwater environments is an essential part of their lifecycle for breeding and spawning. Removing obstacles that block these migration routes therefore helps the recovery of damaged fish stocks, while also preserving the natural ecology of Scotland’s watercourses.

By removing the fish barrier at the Creamery Weir around 10 km of river will once again be accessible to native migrating fish.

Rob Mitchell from RAFTS said: “Migratory fish species such as salmon and sea trout are under pressure due to a number of different factors. In the river environment, increasing and improving habitat is the most effective way to increase juvenile production. The easement or removal of barriers to fish migration such as the Creamery Weir is a very effective way to enable access to otherwise inaccessible habitat.

Francis Hayes from SEPA’s Water Environment Fund said: “The Creamery Weir Project is an exciting opportunity to allow salmon, sea trout and other native fish species to once again access river habitat upstream. It is an example of work happening across Scotland to help achieve our objectives set out in the River Basin Management Plan.”

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Jamie Ribbens from Galloway Fisheries Trust also added ‘We have enjoyed working closely with Doug Kennedy, RAFTS and SEPA on this project.  It is wonderful to think that salmon and sea trout will be able to spawn naturally this winter upstream of the weir site.  This project will help to increase overall fish stocks at a time when they are facing so many pressures in the marine environment.’

Specialist Yorkshire environmental contractor, Ebsford Environmental Ltd will be delivering the scheme which is expected to take one month to complete.

Nick Hartley, Managing Director of Ebsford Environmental Ltd comments: “This project represents another prestigious win for the water civils team at Ebsford and further demonstrates that our knowledge of sedimentation, river restoration and environmental approach to contracting is paying dividends. Being invited into the project team it quickly becomes obviously how passionate all the parties are in delivering such schemes and we are delighted that they are trusting the on-site works to Ebsford.”

Specialist works will include the removal of the redundant 3m high Creamery Weir and associated sluice gate, and installation of an engineered rock step-pool sequence. The works will be completed under close supervision in order to protect the original geomorphology of the burn.

Once complete the clear path will once again connect with the main watercourse allowing for the free and safe passage of all aquatic species of interest (migratory salmonids, Eel and Lamprey) resulting in long-term ecological gain for the area.

In at the Deep End

As a recent addition to the Ebsford Team, I have hit the ground running at the beginning of a busy summer for the company. Using our trusty Truxor machine, we have continued our highly successful and award winning zero-waste de-silting techniques.

My first aquatic project was a pond restoration at East Bierley, Bradford. The ethos of the project was very much focused on the community, as the pond was popular with the local residents and of course the ducks.

The aim of the restoration was to remove excess silt in order to restore the biodiversity of the pond, and re-use the extracted material on site to re-enforce the banks and prevent future erosion.

As you can see from our before and after pictures, there’s quite a difference and we’re pretty proud of the transformation.

Pond 2 before            Pond before

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Once the hard engineering was completed, we teamed up with East Bierley Primary School to add the finishing touches to their local pond. We took this opportunity to give the children a mini lesson in ecosystems and biodiversity. They were very enthusiastic about the three large bags of wildflower seeds we gave them to plant. The children weren’t the only ones that had a great morning out, as even myself and our managing director couldn’t resist getting involved with the waders and jumping into the pond to do some more seeding, check out that technique, you’d think I’d been doing it for years right?

Hannah pond I can’t wait to go back to site in a few weeks and see how all the plants and flowers have grown and hopefully the ducks are loving their new home.

Happy weekend from Ebsford,

Hannah

 

 

 

 

 

 

From Shortlist to Winners

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Having made it on to the shortlist for the for the Heritage category at this year’s Constructing Excellence Yorkshire and Humber Awards, the Ebsford team headed out on Friday for dinner, a few drinks and a great night with the opportunity to meet some of the industries leaders.

The ceremony held at the New Dock Hall conference venue in Leeds had a set up to rival any A-list red carpet event and some excellent speakers introducing the nominees along the way.

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The competition for our category was pretty impressive and as mentioned in our previous post we were honoured to be even placed in the same category as some of these companies and their projects.

 

Professor Chris Gorse, Director of Leeds Sustainability Institute who was presenting the heritage award began to read a statement about a project that sounded similar to ours. “A young company that managed to carry out a project with zero waste, market leaders and technology with the potential to become industry standard.”  It was only at this moment we even acknowledged that we could be in with a chance of winning. Imagine our surprise when we then heard Ebsford Environmental.

 

So it was with genuine amazement that we took to the stage to accept our award before continuing to celebrate with the winners of the other categories, and of course take part in the selfie challenge.

 

All of us at Ebsford couldn’t be more proud of this achievement, it was a big step for us and we are looking forward to working on more projects that will hopefully win some awards in the future.

 

Thank you to the organisers for a brilliant event and to the YHCE team for our win. The trophy looks great in our office.

We’ve made the shortlist!

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Ebsford are delighted to have made the shortlist for the Heritage category at this year’s Constructing Excellence Yorkshire and Humber Awards.

Constructing Excellence are a well-respected organisation with a strong following across the UK. These awards recognise and celebrate the organisations, companies and project teams involved in delivering “excellence in construction” and Ebsford is proud to be amongst some strong competition as one of the finalists of the heritage category.

Our place on the shortlist is a direct result of our de-silting work at The Half Moon Reservoir. Fountains Abbey is one of Ebsfords largest and most successful heritage projects to date and we are proud to share this example of our success. A short video of this project can be seen on the Ebsford YouTube channel.

The Ebsford team are looking forward to what promises to be a great night at the awards ceremony.

Find out more about the awards and view our Fountains Abbey video using the links below.

https://www.youtube.com/user/Ebsford/

http://ckegroup.org/cexcellenceyh/shortlist-announced-for-constructing-excellence-yorkshire-and-humber-awards-2016/

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Dear Mr 20%

Dear Mr 20%

 

Reference – That project we could never have won 

 

Thank you for allowing us to tender for the above opportunity. As you can imagine, as an SME committed to offering exceptional quality and sensible pricing we were disappointed to find out that we were unsuccessful on this occasion:

Given the fact we scored 100% on the quality element of our submission, there is little benefit in requesting feedback.

I would however, like to give some further background on how we were able to achieve that score which will hopefully go some way to helping you understand our pricing model.

Credentials and accreditations

We think as a company it is vital that we take the worry from you over our quality and abilities. To this end we probably go a little over the top on our requirements. Currently we as company hold:

CHAS

Constructionline

SMAS

INNSA

Achilles

ISO9001, 14001, 18001 – Well we are working towards this but at significant expense

Staff

Our staff are the very core of everything we do. We can develop the best strategies and methodologies in the UK, however, if we have demotivated staff then a project will rarely get delivered in a way you’ll be happy with. It’s important to us that we pay our staff above the going rate so they are really committed to the Ebsford ethos. In addition to this we put them in good quality hotels, we give them all vehicles that are modern and have the comforts you’d expect if you were driving 30,000 miles a year.

For site works they have the best equipment on the market, whether these are knapsacks or dry suits. We need them to be comfortable but most of all safe in what they do.

Training

It’s not just enough to have well paid staff who believe in the company. You have to make sure that they remain competent to do the role they occupy. We have some basic rules for the business:

  • All project engineers must have a degree or preferably a masters in Environmental Engineering or sustainability.
  • All site supervisors must have SMSTS if they are to be managing any item of works.
  • All machine drivers must have SSSTS as they will in essence be supervising their own portions of projects.

We don’t need to do much of this. We understand that your requirement was for CSCS, however we don’t agree that a 45 minute touch screen test is enough to work on a site that could be flooded at any time or is an active construction site with numerous other contractors and machines.

Consultancy and tender preparation

It’s plain to see that you are happy with this with the score you gave us. We don’t achieve that by luck or guesswork. All our sites are pre-visited by not only the project engineer but by a member of the operations team who ensures that not only do we put together a commercially viable solution but also one that is buildable. In our experience this almost totally removes that little knock on your door that you get after the project has started asking for more money in compensation events because something has been missed in the specification.

I’m pretty certain if you don’t know what I mean by that you will do in the next 2-4 weeks.

Conclusion 

I know this letter can’t make any difference, and I am also switched on enough to know that this isn’t an issue of your making, but although you may not see it, you do have a choice:

In every tender I see there is a statement “We are not duty bound to accept the lowest priced or highest scoring tender”. Perhaps when you look at quality scores of 50% or below you need to ask yourself if this is a legacy that you want to leave behind? Of being an organisation that is so focused on costs that you are prepared to make that level of sacrifice on quality? Maybe you could be that person to take a stand and say *this isn’t good enough*.

I’m not a clairvoyant but to me the future seems clear, if this continues then higher quality organisations will feel excluded from these exercises and will therefore stop tendering. This will leave the lower quality scores that you receive now actually becoming the cream of the crop with prices being driven so far down that quality actually becomes irrelevant. If you cannot see that ultimately this will lead to unsatisfactory completions and additional costs then I suspect this whole letter was rather pointless.

 

Yours frustratingly

An exasperated SME owner

What Plant Are You?

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This may seem a strange question, although many of us are accustomed to the usual ‘if you were an animal which animal would you be and why?’……

I was interviewed yesterday about the company and everything we do and was asked this question, I have to admit to being caught slightly off guard. Some of you may be surprised by this and think the natural answer would be Japanese knotweed? Actually this couldn’t be further from the truth. Many of our competitors, Japanese knotweed (insert generic last word here) do share many traits. They are pretty invasive in their presence with aggressive marketing campaigns or generic hourly tweets, they can grow massive, they can cost you a fortune and usually you only deal with them when you absolutely have to.

So I thought and thought, and then it struck me! I and indeed Ebsford aspire to be Butomus umbellatus or “flowing rush”. We stay green all year round, but really flower in spring and summer. We are at our happiest going unnoticed on the riverbanks and wetlands up and down the UK. We are much less intrusive and invasive than many of our bigger and more well known competitors and much prefer staying small and manageable.

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Butomus umbellatus – Flowing rush

However, don’t let this fool you. What many people don’t realise is that Butomus has a hidden secret. Recent scientific studies have proven that despite its small nature and attractive appearance it is actually able to clean up land and water with more efficiency than larger plants at a fraction of the cost and space, that is why more and more major schemes are specifying this as a ‘go to plant’ where phytoremediation and aesthetics are of key importance.

So perhaps there is a lesson here, it’s very easy to spend a lot of time on well-known plants that have perhaps been heavily publicised, but sometimes there is a lot to be said for doing a bit more research and finding something that will be there all year and hopefully interact in a sensitive and pleasant way. Who knows, maybe they’ll even save you money too?

So on your next project, why not try and find a Butomus contractor? Because nobody wants to have Japanese knotweed!!

Nick Hartley

Managing Director