You couldn’t make it up

On a crane removal yesterday.

How does stuff like this even happen?

My line got stuck up at the hook, upon closer inspection it transpired that the retrieval cone had tied a knot whilst I was repositioning on the tree. Huh. I put it down to retrieval cone humour.

That was quite a job! Very large beech tree, half died back with extensive fungal activity in the base, it took 37 picks to remove, finished up at 7pm.

I enjoy this kind of work, as it brings together technical rigging, team work and communication in a situation where you have to have a very keen sense of spatial awareness.

Making connections

Treemagineers Ltd is delighted to announce the beginning of a strategic alliance with North American Training Solutions (NATS).

NATS is a leader in the provision of safety and training solutions to the arboriculture, utility, rescue and environment sectors across North America.  Together, Treemagineers and NATS will cooperate with existing partners Teufelberger, DMM and Papertrail to continue to develop knowledge, competency training programmes, solutions and equipment to improve safety and efficiency within arboriculture and beyond.

Yet another event to attend?

I finally got round to re-doing the vertical-connect website. Rather chuffed with how it turned out, as this was a first for me.

Despite the title of this blog post, this is actually not simply yet another event to attend. Vertical-connect is special in number of aspects: there is the spectacular alpine location, the dynamic fusion of different disciplines in verticality, the highly competent audience, the wide range of topics and presentation formats to name but a few.

Should you not have anything planned for the end of August, why not swing by and have a look for yourself – consider yourself warmly invited. This event is certainly one of my annual highlights…

Oh, and by the way, this is a chicken-friendly event. So bring your hen or rooster by all means.

More to wonder about

Whilst we are on the theme of wondering… have YOU ever wondered where throwbags come from?

I bet you thought they came out of some workshop or factory? Well, you thought WRONG! Get your daily dose of amazing facts from the treemagineers’ blog, you can thank me later for widening your horizon… today we exclusively reveal the true source of throwbags.

I wonder

During the instruction of knots at a level two climbing course the other  day, I was musing upon how you can really divide humanity into two groups: those who tie an Alpine Butterfly knot by looping the line three times round their hand – and those who tie it flat, twisting the rope twice and then looping it around.

Full disclosure, I belong in the latter group.

This got me wondering why this might be.

This in turn reminded me of the business with coriander. There seems to exist a clear divide when it comes to coriander: some people love it, other hate it,  with little middle ground in between. And indeed there is a factual reason for this, which is variations in the OR6A2 gene. This in turn has an influence on the olfactory receptor 6A2: the variation causes some people to associate the smell and taste of coriander with vomit or soap.

But hey, I like coriander.

So… I was wondering whether there might be some gene-based correlation between people liking coriander and how they tie Alpine Butterfly knots? My statistical basis is somewhat sketchy, but right now (based upon me) the empirical evidence would seem to indicate that people who like coriander tie the Butterfly knot flat.

Mind you, I may have to broaden the statistical foundation somewhat for that statement to hold water.

Veneer of competence

I thought it might be of interest to share this article I wrote for the January edition of TICA’s TCI Magazine on the veneer of competence…

Recognising and Cutting Through a Veneer of Competence

Never judge a book by its cover, the old proverb reminds us. Yet, is that not exactly what is happening when an employer is considering hiring a person, or a crew leader is presented with a new member on the crew? What are the mental pitfalls that can result from this mindset, and how can they be circumnavigated?

Of course, there is concrete information that plays a significant role in the decision of whether to hire a prospective employee, such as his or her resume or CV, letters of recommendation or a list of qualifications. But there are also touchy-feely elements in play, such as the impression someone makes during that first meeting, that can sway the decision whether to hire or not. Yet, are these elements sufficient to base a decision upon, bearing in mind that during tree care operations, when working at height or running machinery, flawed decisions can have serious or fatal repercussions?

In this age of an overabundance of information, it is becoming increasingly difficult to discern a true level of competence. Is the person being considered someone whose competence is founded upon training and theoretical knowledge as well as experience? Or is it someone who likes the idea of being an arborist, of working at height with all the attention that it attracts? Someone may have all the trap- pings of a competent person – the equipment, the terminology, the look – yet this apparent competence may not be founded on sound training, theoretical knowledge or experience. Rather, it may come from spending time in the relevant forums and social-media chatrooms, from browsing through catalogs or from spending time at trade shows.

Of course, the above have value when combined with other means of gaining competence. But in isolation, they are hollow and can be misleading. They may mask the fact that the person’s competence is not a solid foundation on which to base their decisions, but is merely a thin veneer. Often, this may only become apparent under pressure – leading to complications or dangerous situations.

In the field of psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect describes a cognitive bias that leads people of low competencies and abilities to mistakenly over-estimate their abilities and level of competence. Add to this the fact that, in a group setting, the most vocal person frequently will steer decisions. At the same time, the more competent operator, who has the experience and the mental tools to estimate his or her level of competence more accurately, may chose to remain in the background. This person may take the assured posturing of his or her less competent teammate as an indicator of skills or abilities that in truth the teammate does not possess. The result, as described by Dunning-Kruger, may well lead to the loudest voice during the decision-making process being the person with a low, or the lowest, level of competence.

In the best-case scenario, this effect may lead to the level of competence in the team being watered down to the lowest common denominator – and in the worst cases, to confusion, near misses and accidents.

So what means are there to recognize such veneers of competence before they become an issue?

It can be tempting to take the new hot-shot climber at face value and use him or her according to his or her apparent level of abilities. But it may be preferable to not simply build upon assumptions, and instead to develop a company policy on acceptable techniques and procedures for doing so. This policy would be based on industry best practices and manufacturer guidelines. The policy would be required to ensure it is discussed, understood and implemented at all levels of the organization.

A crew that is empowered and has an understanding of, and is in compliance with, policies as to how work is to be performed is far better equipped to not react in a star-struck fashion to a new team member who is vocal and socially competent, appears to have done it all and seems not to need anything explained to him or her.

It can make sense to define such procedures and operating policies, not only for complex tools and techniques, but also for apparently simple matters such as the use of ladders or lowering devices. It is only when one starts discussing such tools that it may become apparent that every member of the crew is using them in subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) different fashions, based on suppositions and assumptions.

A further protection against the competence-veneer pitfall is not to give in to every trend simply because apparently everyone else is doing so. As an employer or responsible person, it is not unreasonable to demand a solid foundation on which to base the decision whether to allow certain techniques or not. These might include manufacturer information, certification or industry best practices. Again, asking questions of the new person on the crew may provide an indication of the depth of understanding the person possesses – is it simply something he or she picked up at a recent trade show, or is it a matter the person has given due consideration? Does he or she have an understanding of the parameters for correct use, and is this person able to use the tool or technique in a correct fashion?

The condition of a person’s equipment can offer further insight into the depth of the new team member’s abilities. New gear is not necessarily indicative of true competence – it may simply speak of the person’s willingness to invest in gear. Conversely, worn equipment may not necessarily be a bad sign, depending on the wear. Is the gear worn as a result of regular, extended use, yet well maintained and looked after? Or does it show signs of modification, in- correct use or damage? It is wise not to ignore such indicators. Taken on their own, they may not be a big deal (though in some cases they may!). But when viewed in a wider context, they may indicate a lack of understanding and ability.

All of the above is not intended to be mean-spirited or negative. On the contrary, a company culture based on open, transparent communication, high-quality interaction between management and operators in the field and a focus on training and development of competencies is truly something to aspire to. It is something that benefits all persons involved in the company, making for a better, safer and more structured work environment.

It is important not to ignore instances in which decisions are being based on a thin veneer of competence. This is by no means a private matter and ought to concern all. It is too late after the accident has occurred and a person has been hospitalised – or worse, when, during the debriefing, you can only be sorry and everybody is left shaking their heads, saying “If only we had realised! How on earth could he have made that call? We all thought he knew better! We should have known better.”  This issue should have and could have been caught much earlier.

The good news is that doing so is not rocket science. It involves good, quality communication, being diligent and attentive to details and looking out for each other. These form the foundation and the first steps toward avoiding the pitfall created by the veneer of competence, offering greater safety and an opportunity to increase competencies and skills – for all involved. 



On the first day in Green-Wood I was up a tree, about to switch my pulley saver from one anchor point to another… when I realised that I did not have one of the yellow retrieval cones with me. Arghh! Let me explain…

My approach to retrieval cones, both small and large used to be very much belt and braces for a long time, the thinking being you can never have too many. So I would hang retrieval cones wherever there was space to do so, with multiple ones hanging off my harness, my gear bag, as well as climbing and access line bags. In fact at one point, I even had one on my key ring!

So it felt like more than just a touch of irony to be stranded in Brooklyn, up a tree, with ZERO retrieval cones to hand.

I ended up having to manually de-install my saver. Once on the ground I started wondering about how I was going to manage this situation for the coming days, in view of the fact that there was not a single cone to be found anywhere. Randomly, I had a 5 Norwegian Kroner coin handing off my gear bag. And a roll of duct tape in it. As so often before in my life, duct tape saved the day! (I always wondered why I had that coin hanging on my bag and how it got there – now I know! It was meant to be there for that moment of need in Brooklyn)

A length of throw line through the hole in the coin, build up some width with duct tape… et voilà: a more or less functional retrieval cone! More countries should make coins with holes in them, they can come pretty handy.

I got home an ordered ten retrieval cones


Climbers Forum 2019

If you are wondering what events to attend next year, let me suggest that you make the trip to the German Tree Care Days and the Climbers Forum in Augsburg, Germany.

This unique event never stops surprising me with its many facets and its engaged, savvy audience… most certainly worth the effort of getting there.

You can thank me later.

The dates for next year are 7 to 9 May 2019.

For more info:

Lucky to be here

Well, there, strictly speaking, as I am back home now.

I had a further opportunity to work in the trees in Green-Wood cemetery in Brooklyn, NY with Phil Kelley.

What can I say? It is a true privilege to be able to work on such a unique collection of trees in a very special setting, starting a climb in a bucolic setting, surrounded by headstones, bird song and trees, to be surprised by the view from the top of the canopy, offering stunning vistas over Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Upper New York Bay.

Impressions I took home with me this time were for instance of a silver maple that retrenched itself, beautiful, impressive and brimming with vitality. I was considering one stem with a large cavity at its base, wondering whether to take some weight off the top, so I gave it good old kick to see how it moved – upon which I heard a strange wheezing sound and a plop, and saw a racoon streaking away below me. Poor thing had obviously been snoozing in the cavity, to be unceremoniously dumped onto the ground. This was another distinctive theme of this visit: racoons galore, they seemed to be everywhere and racoon poop., with trees with literally every limb covered in the stuff. Ho-hum. Then again, who are we humans to complain about other creatures making a mess: we are, after all, hard to top! Masters of disaster.

We also did some work and installation bracing systems on a large beech tree. Due to the number of stems and position of the weak unions we ended up having to place an absolute spider’s web-worth of braces up there!

The main thing I take away every time from these visits is a lesson in being humble.

We may like to think that we are like the Lorax in Dr. Seuss’ books and that we speak for the trees – yet in truth we do not. We do not know better than the trees. These beings have millions years of experience when it comes to survival strategies and how to manage their shape and form. We are but a blink of an eyelid in this story. Time and again I come across trees that every one of us would probably condemn without a moment’s hesitation – yet there they are, still standing, braving wind and weather. It just goes to show how often trees have a much higher degree of resilience than we credit them with and that we tend to remove them much earlier than is strictly speaking necessary. Partly this is understandable if you are operating in a risk-adverse environment, which is probably true of many of us.

All the more I commend Joe Charap and the rest of the team at Green-Wood for going out on a limb for these beautiful, veteran trees – beautiful, damaged and dignified, despite or maybe because of all their faults and defects.