One for Neville

The day before I left for Deventer was pretty busy, getting all sorts of things sorted, packing the ETCC gear I have stored at my place – the normal sort of last minute rushing around.

That evening I had everything packed up, when the phone rang around eight pm. It was one of the property managers for the church, who we work for, sounding a bit flustered, telling me that an old Robinia we were due to prune the following week had dropped a limb, could I go and have a look. Okay, I said, thinking to myself, how bad can it be.

Now just to give you an understanding… this tree is in the garden of the vicarage in the old part of Basel, which towers over the old town and a very steep road down to the middle bridge, which crosses the river Rhine. It must be about a 20m drop from the terrace where the tree is standing.

I called the vicar’s wife, who sounded equally flustered, telling me the fire brigade were on site and the police had closed off the road down below. Egad! I though, this sounds rather serious, so off I went – after all, I had plenty of gear in the vehicle! Arriving on site I was greeted by a rather surreal scene: The vicar, his wife and his four kids were in the middle of dinner in the garden, fire men were milling around the garden and one of the town arborists had also joined the party. In the midst of all this the Robinia, which by that time had dropped a sizeable limb, which initially had been suspended from a strip of live wood, now balanced rather precariously on the parapet of the wall, above the old town buildings below, held in place, thanks to a chimney it had partially pushed over.

Umm. Yesss…

Time for plan… E. Or F. This no longer looked like a case of securing it and coming back later, rather more like getting it down ASAP. So I got myself up the tree, secured the limb upwards with a mechanical advantage system, braced it sideways to keep it stable, then balanced out very gingerly, tied into the Robinia, to reduce the limb branch by branch, passing them back into the garden. Then we straightened out the chimney, which weighed about 80kg. Next I cleaned down the roof, removing the bits of concrete the chimney had shed, as well as branches. Some of the tiles date back to the middle ages, so I was stepping veeeery gingerly.

By about nine thirty we were done. And I was soaked, as it was a very warm evening… still, everybody seemed happy.

We went back two weeks later, now it was time to decide what to do with the tree. It must be a good 160 to 170 years old, loads of die-back and cracks galore. Put it this way, with your normal VTA you would be struggling – and seen from a pure risk assessment point of view, you might well condemn the tree straight out. But having said that, it is so beautiful, every crack you look at is filled with bat droppings and insects of all kinds of description, it really reminded me of Neville Fay talking about arc trees, which help preserve and carry species through time. With this in mind, I was determined to preserve the tree. I requested a meeting with the owner of the tree and the city tree officer, explaining what we intended to do and why, how we intended to manage the risk the tree poses and how we intended to mitigate the residual risk. They were good with all this, so we went ahead.

We reduced the tree all around by a good third, with a focus on retaining as much foliage in the lower part as possible. The tree was so wobbly initially, that I have to say I had my doubts whether we would be able to get it sufficiently stable. My main focus was to ensure that it could not tumble over the wall, that in case of a failure, damage would be limited to the garden. Once we had reduced a good lot of weight off the top and the ends, the tree felt a lot more stable, for good measure we added in four and seven ton bracing between the main limbs.

Et voilà, job done.

Walked away from this one with a sense of satisfaction of having preserved an important piece of habitat in a part of town which has few such trees. Sometimes it is worth removing the liability and risk blinkers we sometimes seem to rely overly upon – and consider other factors. This is not to say that risk was not considered. In this case, it was managed by communicating the limits of what is achievable and by getting the tree owner to accept a degree of risk that there may be further failures in the future, but limiting the physical space in which these can occur. Also we defined a short inspection interval to monitor the tree closely. The tree was pruned back very hard and braced. This would seem to me to be a pretty comprehensive package in terms of managing the risks posed by the tree.

Removing a tree is not the only way to mitigate risk – and we have to be aware of the fact that when we do so, we are always also removing habitat.

Reflecting upon ETCC 2017

To be honest, for for a number of reasons, I travelled up to Netherlands for the European Tree Climbing Competition beginning of the week before last feeling a bit disheartened. This was a bit of a first, as in the past I have always simply looked forwards to ETCC. Once on sight though, face to face with the set-up crew and the ETCCOC folk, I could not help but to be infected by the buzz which builds prior to such an event. It is a long build-up, starting in autumn of the year before, requiring a lot of pushing, overcoming of doubts and frustrations – and of course every time you are working with a new group of people in the host chapter, posing a unique set of challenges every time.

But I think it is fair to say that the efforts by all involved paid off. ETCC 2017 was all I could have hoped it to be.

Sheeesh… Mark harping on about the comps – again, you say?

Well, I think what I find so interesting about such events, is that you can plan all you want, but this does not make for an event that necessarily feels good. I am interested in the moment that the event gains a soul – and why. When strangers start interacting with strangers, when the whole thing starts to flow and create its own dynamic movement forwards.

Part of how this happens has to do with many people investing their time, effort, energy and creativity. Not because they have to, but because they want to, because of a vision of a common greater good, a shared belief. In this case, that belief would be expressing climbers’ culture within the greater arboriculture.

Only if we manage to make these events feel inclusive, welcoming and authentic, are we achieving what we set out to do: to convey the essence of what tree care can be, to show the fascination of moving around in a canopy, to showcase the skills involved. This is a far call away from being simply about winning or losing, about power or influence, there are enough examples of this mind-set out there in the world without us having to add a further one to it. I believe we can set a counter-point to this mentality, where we demonstrate how cooperation, mindfulness and diligence can be combined into a very exciting and dynamic mixture.

This is what I find interesting about this kind of event: it reflects all of its constituent elements, every contribution is meaningful and will have an effect on the whole.

ETCC 2017 was a cracker, so if you were there, give yourself a pat on the back. Your efforts were appreciated and registered. And if you weren’t there? Well, there is always a next time.

Photos courtesy of Stihl/ Smaragd Medien GmbH

ETCC 2017 in Deventer, NL

Bit slow off the mark with this one… put it down to a post-event catatonic state.

More to come regarding ETCC in the next few days, still waiting for some pics.

The video below which the Smaragd Media crew put together for Stihl gives you an impression of what went on. Great production, once again, thanks to Michi and the crew.

Impressive performances: We have put together a video for you featuring the highlights from the 2017 European Tree Climbing Championship.

Posted by STIHL on Friday, 30 June 2017

Sometimes things go wrong

Teufelberger recently issued tow safety notices regarding the [slaice]® and some stitching on the treeMOTION leg loops. When you are involved in one way or another with the manufacturing or development of PPE, this is the kind of news you dread.

Luckily, in this case, the consequences are not life threatening and no one has been hurt.

On the [slaice]®, the warning involves internal movement of elements of the rope, leading to irregularities in the diameter of the line behind the termination – while still making 15kN. On the treeMOTION, the notice addresses the fact that some leg loops seem to have gone out of the factory without the webbing being stitching under the folded over tab on the inside of the leg loop (see photo below). This also will not lead to a fall. But of course, both cases are not acceptable.

Teufelberger has launched an investigation to gain a better understanding of how exactly these issue could occur.

Do not get me wrong, I am in no way attempting to play these incidents down  – after all, this is class 3 PPE we are talking about, not Grand Theft Auto.

Yet having said that, I think we need to be realistic and admit that things can and will go wrong in all walks of life, the same being true of the manufacturing of PPE. This kind of thing can and does happen to any manufacturer. The relevant point here is does the manufacturer have a robust quality assurance scheme in place which allows them to catch irregularities  and trace them forwards to the end user? And in a next step, how does the manufacturer respond to such an occurrence: do they try to fudge it and play it down – or do they do the right thing, which is to communicate in an open and honest fashion as soon as possible what has happened and why, and explain what they plan to do about it.

Ultimately this once again is about giving the end user appropriate and sufficient information to base their decisions upon – or in this case to recognise equipment that may not be fit for purpose.

At treemagineers we remain very happy with our strategic partnerships with both DMM and Teufelberger, have full faith in their manufacturing abilities and commend their commitment to striving for the highest possible quality in their products – and to take full responsibility should issues occur, as is the case here – to then sort them out and move on!