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Branching Out: Tree Climbing with Tasha and Johnny

It was a cold, wintry morning in January as Tasha and I walked over the frosty grass, our breath fogging the air. We’d had an early start to get up to Settle in Yorkshire for the first day of our Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue course, delivered by Phil at Lowe Maintenance. Armed with our new helmets, excitement, and a healthy dose of trepidation, we were to spend the next week learning the names, merits and shortcomings of all the equipment from prusiks to zigzags, and putting it to use climbing a line of mature Beech (Fagus sylvatica) and Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) in the former Deer grounds of Anley Hall.

A view of the frosty fields on our first morning

Most of the 17 bat species in the UK (18 if you include the solitary Greater Mouse-eared Bat (Myotis myotis) which occasionally visits) use trees in some capacity, whether for hibernation or summer roosts, or for commuting and foraging. The Noctule (Nyctalus noctula) almost exclusively roosts in trees highlighting the importance of trees for this taxon, and as ecologists it is our job to find out whether any trees to be affected by development are host to any roosts. Often we are able to assess trees from ground level using binoculars and a torch, or using a ladder, but frequently features are obscured by canopy, on the wrong side of a bough, or otherwise can’t be fully investigated without getting right up close.

Johnny up in the canopy

Our first two days were spent getting to grips with the equipment and basic ascending of trees safely; we had access to some modern gadgets that made the climbs a little less strenuous, which was good because by Friday we were both feeling worked out! On the third day we were introduced to the aerial rescue aspect of the course; our unfortunate assistant Paddy the dummy was hoisted up the tree and we practiced two techniques to safely rescue an unconscious or incapacitated climber. Tree climbing work is done in pairs with two full sets of equipment for this reason; one climber is always waiting below in case of an accident, so it was good to see Tasha successfully practicing the rescue – I know she’ll have my back if something goes wrong!

Tasha coming to the rescue and sweeping Paddy off his feet!

On the fourth day Phil introduced us to branch walking, whereby we use another anchor point to help us move around the tree without the risk of a pendulum swing from our main ropes. This is really essential for us as ecologists, the features bats like can often right at the end of a branch away from the main trunk, so we have to be able to get out there with an endoscope or torch. On the final day we learned one last technique – pole climbing with spikes. When a tree has no branches to anchor to, we can use a series of ropes wrapped around the trunk in combination with downwards-pointing spikes strapped to the inside of our calves to ascend instead; however, it is important not to do this in healthy trees which are to be retained as the resultant damage to the trunk can cause serious harm by allowing in rot.

Branch walking practice on the Thursday

After some revision of legislation and the different knots we needed to know, we were ready for our exam on Saturday. We were nervous but thankfully it went smoothly, and we are both delighted to now be fully qualified for tree climbing surveys! It was a tiring week, but definitely worth it.

Pole rescue practice armed with climbing spikes

Tyrer can now offer tree climbing assessments, contact us via email or call the office to book in a survey now!

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