At the beginning of August 2017 I spent a day observing and photographing the Conservation Arborists working at Pole Hill in Epping Forest.
What is a Conservation Arborist/Arboriculturalist?
In Epping Forest there are 3 teams of Conservation Arborists with a Senior Conservation Officer in each team.
An Arborist is much more than a person with a chainsaw who removes dead branches. An Arborist climber is a professional tree surgeon and to become one is no mean feat. They are highly skilled and have spent years learning and putting this in practice. It’s physically and mentally demanding and involves working in all weathers in a difficult environment. Safety has to be their topmost priority as it is a dangerous occupation so teamwork is vital.
A Conservation Arboriculturalist has another string to their bow in that they view tree, woodland pasture and forest management by taking into consideration the biodiversity of the tree and its surrounding ecosystem. I have met many different Conservation Arboriculturalists through my work and they all have one thing in common, a passion for the natural sciences and trees. Not all are tree climbers and many have different specialisms such as bats, fungi, invertebrates, soils or different tree species, but all have the same ultimate aim which is to conserve and manage the health of trees. Public safety is also taken into consideration but trees are not removed or cut unnecessarily unless they pose a significant hazard which cannot be remedied by alternative means.
The Day’s Events
So, back to my very interesting day. I met the team Gavin, Tom & Colin at the Warren and travelled with them and their equipment to Pole Hill.
The area was cordoned off for public safety due to falling branches and dangerous equipment
Meet the MEWP (Mobile Elevating Work Platform). It can be controlled remotely and moved around uneven terrain
I was taken through their Health & Safety Procedures and shown the equipment they were use. I noticed on the H&S form that I was one of the potential hazards for the day!
I was lucky enough to be taken up to the full height of the MEWP to 100ft so I could see right across the forest canopy and parts of London. I think they were really trying to find out if I had a head for heights and could cope for the day. I was so distracted by the view and taking photographs that I didn’t get any vertigo at all. After this the real work began and I spent a few hours photographing two different arborists from the MEWP which was quite a unique experience.
Pollarding in Epping Forest
The purpose of the work on this day was the crown reduction of some hornbeam trees. This is a managed and gradual repollarding of lapsed hornbeam pollards as part of a 10 year wood pasture restoration project in Epping Forest.
Pollarding is where tree branches are lopped back out of the reach of browsing animals and the new wood growth can be harvested on a regular cycle without destroying the tree. This has been done successfully for centuries and in the past created a wood supply for London. A ‘lapsed pollard’ is where the original pollard has not been cut on a regular cycle. After the Epping Forest Act in 1878 pollarding ceased in Epping Forest so there are many veteran ‘lapsed’ pollards within the forest, mostly Beech and Hornbeam which have become top heavy. These veteran trees make the forest a unique place for biodiversity and is why it has been designated a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and a SAC (Special Area of Conservation). New pollarding of younger trees is being done in Epping Forest to maintain the landscape and some of the veteran lapsed pollards have crown reductions to reduce the risk of them splitting from bearing so much weight and to extend their life. You can find out more about veteran trees and pollards in Epping Forest here. Dr Jeremy Dagley, the Head of Conservation has done extensive research and written many papers on pollarding in Epping Forest.
Sequence of 6 images to show how physically demanding this job can be (and occasionally a little fun!)
We were lucky with the weather during the climbing but the rain didn’t stop play later, lunch was eaten under a canopy and the branches & logs were chipped and the area cleared during the afternoon summer rain.
Thank you so much to the team for allowing me to observe, photograph you and record your interesting tree story.
The full gallery of images of this tree story can be found on my website here
“Conservation Arboriculture, while being informed by the natural sciences, also draws from cultural traditions, the humanities, arts and other sciences, to develop a holistic approach to tree management’. (Neville Fay). Click here for full article.