If the only tool you have is a hammer…

I was being shown around one of my project sites. This one was near Cambridge. A developer wanted to build a luxury hotel here.

My tour guide was the project’s arborist. For weeks, he and his assistant had been painstakingly mapping and tagging the hundreds (thousands?) of trees on this woodland site.

‘That’s a field maple tree,’ he enthused. ‘Squirrels love them. That tree’s been chewed to the core so it’ll have to come down.’

As we hiked to the back of the site, he pointed out the trees of interest.

‘What’s that?’ I asked. There was a long, squat black fence bisecting an open grassy glad.

‘The newt fence,’ the arborist said. ‘The ecologist set that up. It’s part of the newt strategy, to help relocate the great crested newts to the new ponds out back.’

The great crested newt is famous for holding up development all over the English countryside. Although a highly protected species, in the eyes of developers, it is exasperatingly common.

‘And here are the ponds,’ the arborist announced. ‘Oh look! There are some newts now.’

‘I see. It looks like the ponds have worked, then,’ I suggested.

‘Yes, they’ve been very successful.’ The arborist grimaced. ‘The ecologist was so pleased with himself when these ponds got put in. The day after they were constructed, I showed up on site. “Look!” the ecologist said when he saw me. I was aghast. When they dug up the pond, they had ripped out all the roots of those lovely beech trees you see there! I was furious. I wanted to grab some newts and nail them to a tree! How would he like that? Eh?’


Here, then, is a reminder about the blinkers we wear as professional specialists. I am the same — to me, everything is always about sustainability.

If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything looks like a nail.


  1. joanium says:

    I’m glad you liked it. It’s in my ‘favourite stories’ category. When I told my team mates about it, they laughed a lot but I wasn’t sure I told the story clearly here!

  2. ftalk says:

    Joan, in our clinical exams last year, half of us flunked one station because we thought the elderly patient failed the Mini Mental State Exam due to dementia. Afterwards, we were severely berated by our examiners for not realising that she was illiterate!
    If you’re a med student studying Aged Care in an exam, then everything looks like dementia.

  3. joanium says:

    Great story, ftalk 🙂 Were you one of those students that thought it was dementia?

    I see this selective filtering all the time at work. I try not to do it but I’m sure I do.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *