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About this blog

My Last climbing hurrah !

By David Humphries aged 48 and ¾

 

I often read and see with great interest (and with more than a tad of jealousy), the various exploits of the host of climbers both young and mature that gallivant around the northern and southern hemisphere,  exploring & climbing some of the world’s oldest and tallest tree specimens.

The majority of my own humble climbing career took place in and around London during the 1990’s when we were still battling both the tree and the climbing equipment to get up & into the canopy. 

5990458fb8e91_Caspers002.thumb.jpg.09b6e70049e352f7700f2352751938f7.jpg


I moved away from climbing on a day to day basis into a supervisory/management role (something I’m starting to regret if I’m honest, as it was a bit too early) and have ended up as the Trees Management Officer for the City of London Corporation looking after the (20,000) tree population at one of London’s finest Open Spaces – Hampstead Heath.

I continued climbing by playing around the rocky playgrounds of the south coast and cairngorms, but even that time came to an end due to family commitents.

IMG_0879.thumb.JPG.61e2465556d6665e989f2b07c0550ef3.JPG

My interaction these days is more around the managing and organizing of climbing works on mature, veteran and ancient trees rather than clambering about them. Although I still get the itch to pull a harness on it seldom materializes and pretty much has become in reality something I used to do rather than something I actually do.

So when an opportunity came knocking in 2009 to have a week of climbing in the Basque region of Spain to learn from and assess/measure lapsed ancient Beech pollards for a Conservation Arb project, I pulled rank and jumped the queue in the team (much to the annoyance of some of my colleagues) to offer up my rusty climbing skills for the cause. 

I borrowed a tree motion and learnt a few (new to me) friction hitches to go with the hitch climber (again, new to me) to help me get back up amongst the leaves.

The trip was organised by Helen Read (Ecologist/Conservation Officer at Burnham Beeches) It was part of an on-going European wide study she had undertaken looking at traditional and sustainable pollarding practices and an opportunity for a group of Ecologists and Arborists from the City of London, together with a couple of members of the Ancient Tree Forum, to climb, record and evaluate regrowth and failure of a number of trees that had been worked on three years previously using a trial of experimental pollarding techniques carried out by a collaboration of Spanish, Swiss and British Arbs. These techniques included using both axe and chainsaw and cutting the lapsed poles at various heights.

DSC00456.thumb.JPG.a1ebb08dad60f27ab8f65eef02376e50.JPG

DSC00197.thumb.JPG.142adadf9b1344dafe37e93707c47dc9.JPG

          

The data would hopefully build a blue print of how and when to return very old lapsed pollards back in to cycle, to a state where vitality is enhanced and self-destruction via decay and biomechanical stress was mitigated.
The Ecological importance of these trees continuing to be being maintained, both in mainland Europe and back here in the UK is considerable. They support the micro habitats of a vast range of fungi, lichen, invertebrates, mammal and avian life with many of these being the on Red data lists of threatened species.  

The trees themselves were spread across large tracts of hill and lower mountain side on common pastures and traditionally used for domestic fuel or as wood for charcoal used in the coastal iron foundries. Some were also shaped to provide particular curves and forks which were used in ship building.

             

DSC00007.thumb.JPG.2fb771f4596d1f8b7f6f592c79eb26e9.JPG

 

Most UK pollards have been lapsed for over a hundred years but the pollards in the Basque have been more recently cut and there are still people around who remember how & when to cut them.

Meeting one such local was a privilege and inspiration and has left me with a far deeper understanding of mans’ place in nature.

We travelled down to the Basque country by train via Paris and spent a week between the two sites of Oieleku and Leitza.

Stunning areas of natural beauty! My camera was never out of my hand.

DSC00772.thumb.JPG.25aa9a876315c3eb03b37cb3e315ccd9.JPG

           

We had a little bit of R&R involving site visits fung’ hunting and imbibing the local fuel but were mostly focused on the task at hand.

 

DSC00714.thumb.JPG.9c9d406704aec66bbcace273a11ebece.JPG            

 

Splitting into teams of climber and recorders, we climbed the 40 pollards that were cut a few years before. Due to their history and nature they were not monster trees in any imagination, the majority being stumpy old gnarly things but a few were around the 50/60’ mark. The climbing was interesting

as the roots and trunks were significantly decade and structurally compromised. We were also mindful not to break any of the newly formed epicormic and adventitious shoots. The old cut stubs were sometimes covered with a moss mat to protect them from the sun and drying out. Rock Lizards had made their homes under these and the loose bark and cavities had resident bats.

IMG_4317.thumb.JPG.71011c93a18855c7f2884b9c69923692.JPG

 

We recorded and measured if the branches were alive or dead, number of eruptions of new shoots, length of extension growth from terminal bud scar and whether the stubs were showing callous, and how far below the dead stubs if there was any live cambium.

DSC00950.thumb.JPG.e59763cb7ead3e6809823699945bd4b6.JPG
 

The data was sent off for collating to a UK University and the findings were published in The Arboricultural Journal in January 2013.

‘Restoration of lapsed beech pollards: Evaluation of techniques and guidance for future work’

Helen J. Read, Jeremy Dagley, Jose Miguel Elosegui, Alvaro Sicilia & C. P. Wheater

Lots of variables, but if time, vigour and expense allow,
then ‘gradual’ pollard restoration is the way to go. The less leaf area removed enables the trees to generate more energy and produce a better response from dormant shoots, leading to fewer pollards likely to fail and die.

DSC00917.thumb.JPG.5188917fa41f4c7d878bb4537ee4e371.JPG

                 

This was a fascinating and inspiring trip to be involved with and opened many doors for me with my own thoughts and experiences around veteran tree management and also gaining access to like minded individuals who are much further down the road to understanding and appreciating tree ecology. I also got to learn a little about the fascinating culture that is the Basque & its people.

 

Here's a link to an earlier thread of images from the trip.........

I’ve not really climbed much since, (last time was a parting team image for our apprentice, below) There’s been the odd tree inspection here and there, and I know I’ll regret stopping being a tree climber for a living but my passion with trees has taken me down a different path which I still thoroughly enjoy.

The Basque climbs were a nice way to put a full stop at the end of my climbing career and I’ll reflect back on it with good memories. 

 

IMG_2126.thumb.JPG.c079d0b3e91b356d2b595769efdbf566.JPG

 

David Humphries

Trees Management Officer

City of London Open Spaces                                                                        

Hampstead Heath

David.humphries@cityoflondon.gov.uk

 

DSC00328.JPG

Entries in this blog

David Humphries

'The hidden heath'
David Humphries, trees management officer Hampstead Heath

 

The following article is taken from a series looking at the hidden treasures to be found in London.
Lonely Planet Magazine
January 2012
Words by Matt Bolton
Main Photo Matt Munro

 

image.jpeg.f1da0ab294f348d5158a243438815a25.jpeg

David Humphries on Sandy Heath. His latest obsession is studying how fungi and trees cohabit.

 

'You don't just stumble across this place,' says David Humphries a man whose excitement at clambering up the nearest trunk puts even the keenest five-year-old to shame. 'It's a place for locals only really. You'll be lucky to see two or three dog walkers a day here, unlike the rest of the park.' Here on Sandy Heath - a serene wooded Glen in the western section - there is a preternatural serenity. It's difficult to believe that this peace can be found just a couple of miles from the frantic tumult of the City, nor in an open space that attracts seven million visitors a year. 'In spring, when it's in full leaf,' says David, 'you can't hear anything except the rustle of leaves.'

 

image.thumb.jpeg.3192b8a89fe418016134ab393dfd4b88.jpeg


David has worked at the Heath since 1985 first joining as a sixteen year old apprentice. Despite being London bred, he says that he was never a city type, and was always drawn to a more rural lifestyle. The remarkable character of Hampstead Heath has allowed David to fulfil his dream.
Unlike London's more sedate Royal Parks, the true mark of the wild remains in the Heath. Trees are allowed to grow in crooked angles or to fall to the floor, and dead stumps slowly rot (they are a vital habitat for insects and bats) while leaves are left to pile up and decompose. 'Some other parks are more sanitised, like a Victorian pleasure park, 'says David. 'Every leaf is cleaned away so people don't get their shoes dirty. On the Heath, we're more about leaving nature to its own devise.'

 

image.thumb.jpeg.00ba7868da45e18d2028fed65b797e22.jpeg

 

A short walk from Sandy Heath are the ruins of Pitts garden, which once belonged to the 18th century prime minister, William Pitt the Elder. A red-brick arch is all that remains, incongruous amid the woodland. A huge Beech has sprung up beside it, the roots pushing the wall of the arch over to such a crazy angle that David had to insert a support frame to stop it keeling over- a quick intervention to satisfy both the historians and the naturalists. 

image.jpeg.b659923ec050459f274b7d6ff259110e.jpeg

 

Across the road is the Hill Garden, perhaps the greatest of all the heaths hidden treasures. The huge stately home had been turned in to luxury flats, but the long serpentine pergola walkway that winds its way above the grounds for a third of a mile is open to the public. It's stone path is lined with pillars that in spring are wound with wisteria and roses.
'Spring is a time of natural noise. You can actually hear the sap rising,' says David. 'Summer is a time of buzz, the insects and crickets. And the winter is a time of dormancy and silence. That's my favourite time of the year , when the Heath feels at complete peace'

 

The viaduct bridge was built in 1845 as part of a failed attempt to turn the Heath into private gardens. 

image.thumb.jpeg.027979b66f5580c1323592cf3421b670.jpeg

 

Hampstead Heath, NW3

 

 

David Humphries
London’s fruit tree heritage and hidden orchards 
 
IMG_2871.thumb.JPG.75bd5798a08067c20ea64febc8795795.JPG
Remnant veteran pear tree in Victorian planted orchard at Golders Hill Park in north London
 
There are an estimated 400,000 apple trees spread across London today, this is approximately 5% of greater London’s 8 million trees.
 
For many centuries whilst London was still growing, there was a need to feed the city’s population with local produce, many large commercial market gardens and fruit tree orchards would of been found in and around the capital supplying the market traders with apples, pears, medlar's, quince and mulberry's.
 
59aea5f7214b9_GHParkPathway1_1915.thumb.JPG.5279cd928baeecf51ff9ff1f4b5d778f.JPG
Same orchard as the pear above, taken circa 1920's
 
But with a growing need for housing these enterprises eventually succumbed to become the building sites of the urban sprawl and the fruit trees would have been mostly felled.
The occasional tree escaped the axe and would of been left at the back of long narrow gardens hidden away to all but the home owner and the wildlife that would make the most of natures free food. Many of these trees would have grown tall and leggy and lappsed out of cycle of being productive fruit producers due to the lack of light, correct pruning and good maintenance.
Remnants of this market garden heritage remain throughout the capital, in private back gardens, parks and public squares.
 
A number of areas across London still retain names associated with a fruity heritage such as Plumstead (place of plum trees) Perivale (pear tree valley) and many street names perhaps reflect a link to their past via their fruit tree names.                                                                                                                                                                                                      
Heathrow airport's runways have replaced orchard nurseries, just a few meters away from the  cemetery where Richard Cox is buried, the gardener who developed the Cox Orange Pippin.
 
Today there is a resurgence in fruit trees being planted in gardens with garden centers and nurseries providing a wide choice of old and new varieties and for old veteran fruit trees to be restored and conserved by skilled arborist. There is also a concerted effort to discover hidden orchard remnants in public parks and to bring them back to being productive trees for local community and school projects.
 
P9130003.thumb.JPG.18056b86b42bda0a41c23761d76d5f71.JPG
Apples harvest from my own old remnant apple tree in the back garden in north London
 
Recently I had the pleasure of supping cider from a newly formed brewing company in London called Local Fox
Their cider and apple juice is crafted from apples harvested across the capital by volunteer orchardists.
 
Very nice it was too........hic !
 
top-juices.jpg.ff466f4375c86bf1c716ab20a97f053e.jpg
 
 
CIDER_LABELLING_26-750x500.jpg.7a87ffe2f03e6b858d2ea7365cb67003.jpg
 
For more information on this visit the website of the Orchard project.
 
 
Video on how to restore old fruit trees by the Vetree project
 
 
.
David Humphries

 

By David Humphries aged 48 and ¾

 

I often read and see with great interest (and with more than a tad of jealousy), the various exploits of the host of climbers both young and mature that gallivant around the northern and southern hemisphere,  exploring & climbing some of the world’s oldest and tallest tree specimens.

The majority of my own humble climbing career took place in and around London during the 1990’s when we were still battling both the tree and the climbing equipment to get up & into the canopy. 

5990458fb8e91_Caspers002.thumb.jpg.09b6e70049e352f7700f2352751938f7.jpg


I moved away from climbing on a day to day basis into a supervisory/management role (something I’m starting to regret if I’m honest, as it was a bit too early) and have ended up as the Trees Management Officer for the City of London Corporation looking after the (20,000) tree population at one of London’s finest Open Spaces – Hampstead Heath.

I continued climbing by playing around the rocky playgrounds of the south coast and cairngorms, but even that time came to an end due to family commitents.

IMG_0879.thumb.JPG.61e2465556d6665e989f2b07c0550ef3.JPG

My interaction these days is more around the managing and organizing of climbing works on mature, veteran and ancient trees rather than clambering about them. Although I still get the itch to pull a harness on it seldom materializes and pretty much has become in reality something I used to do rather than something I actually do.

So when an opportunity came knocking in 2009 to have a week of climbing in the Basque region of Spain to learn from and assess/measure lapsed ancient Beech pollards for a Conservation Arb project, I pulled rank and jumped the queue in the team (much to the annoyance of some of my colleagues) to offer up my rusty climbing skills for the cause. 

I borrowed a tree motion and learnt a few (new to me) friction hitches to go with the hitch climber (again, new to me) to help me get back up amongst the leaves.

The trip was organised by Helen Read (Ecologist/Conservation Officer at Burnham Beeches) It was part of an on-going European wide study she had undertaken looking at traditional and sustainable pollarding practices and an opportunity for a group of Ecologists and Arborists from the City of London, together with a couple of members of the Ancient Tree Forum, to climb, record and evaluate regrowth and failure of a number of trees that had been worked on three years previously using a trial of experimental pollarding techniques carried out by a collaboration of Spanish, Swiss and British Arbs. These techniques included using both axe and chainsaw and cutting the lapsed poles at various heights.

10-david-humphries

DSC00456.thumb.JPG.a1ebb08dad60f27ab8f65eef02376e50.JPG

DSC00197.thumb.JPG.142adadf9b1344dafe37e93707c47dc9.JPG

          

The data would hopefully build a blue print of how and when to return very old lapsed pollards back in to cycle, to a state where vitality is enhanced and self-destruction via decay and biomechanical stress was mitigated.
The Ecological importance of these trees continuing to be being maintained, both in mainland Europe and back here in the UK is considerable. They support the micro habitats of a vast range of fungi, lichen, invertebrates, mammal and avian life with many of these being the on Red data lists of threatened species.  

The trees themselves were spread across large tracts of hill and lower mountain side on common pastures and traditionally used for domestic fuel or as wood for charcoal used in the coastal iron foundries. Some were also shaped to provide particular curves and forks which were used in ship building.

             

DSC00007.thumb.JPG.2fb771f4596d1f8b7f6f592c79eb26e9.JPG

 

Most UK pollards have been lapsed for over a hundred years but the pollards in the Basque have been more recently cut and there are still people around who remember how & when to cut them.

Meeting one such local was a privilege and inspiration and has left me with a far deeper understanding of mans’ place in nature.

We travelled down to the Basque country by train via Paris and spent a week between the two sites of Oieleku and Leitza.

Stunning areas of natural beauty! My camera was never out of my hand.

DSC00772.thumb.JPG.25aa9a876315c3eb03b37cb3e315ccd9.JPG

           

We had a little bit of R&R involving site visits fung’ hunting and imbibing the local fuel but were mostly focused on the task at hand.

 

DSC00714.thumb.JPG.9c9d406704aec66bbcace273a11ebece.JPG            

 

Splitting into teams of climber and recorders, we climbed the 40 pollards that were cut a few years before. Due to their history and nature they were not monster trees in any imagination, the majority being stumpy old gnarly things but a few were around the 50/60’ mark. The climbing was interesting

as the roots and trunks were significantly decade and structurally compromised. We were also mindful not to break any of the newly formed epicormic and adventitious shoots. The old cut stubs were sometimes covered with a moss mat to protect them from the sun and drying out. Rock Lizards had made their homes under these and the loose bark and cavities had resident bats.

IMG_4317.thumb.JPG.71011c93a18855c7f2884b9c69923692.JPG

 

We recorded and measured if the branches were alive or dead, number of eruptions of new shoots, length of extension growth from terminal bud scar and whether the stubs were showing callous, and how far below the dead stubs if there was any live cambium.

DSC00950.thumb.JPG.e59763cb7ead3e6809823699945bd4b6.JPG
 

The data was sent off for collating to a UK University and the findings were published in The Arboricultural Journal in January 2013.

‘Restoration of lapsed beech pollards: Evaluation of techniques and guidance for future work’

Helen J. Read, Jeremy Dagley, Jose Miguel Elosegui, Alvaro Sicilia & C. P. Wheater

Lots of variables, but if time, vigour and expense allow,
then ‘gradual’ pollard restoration is the way to go. The less leaf area removed enables the trees to generate more energy and produce a better response from dormant shoots, leading to fewer pollards likely to fail and die.

DSC00917.thumb.JPG.5188917fa41f4c7d878bb4537ee4e371.JPG

                 

This was a fascinating and inspiring trip to be involved with and opened many doors for me with my own thoughts and experiences around veteran tree management and also gaining access to like minded individuals who are much further down the road to understanding and appreciating tree ecology. I also got to learn a little about the fascinating culture that is the Basque & its people.

 

Here's a link to an earlier thread of images from the trip.........

I’ve not really climbed much since, (last time was a parting team image for our apprentice, below) There’s been the odd tree inspection here and there, and I know I’ll regret stopping being a tree climber for a living but my passion with trees has taken me down a different path which I still thoroughly enjoy.

The Basque climbs were a nice way to put a full stop at the end of my climbing career and I’ll reflect back on it with good memories. 

 

IMG_2126.thumb.JPG.c079d0b3e91b356d2b595769efdbf566.JPG

 

David Humphries

Trees Management Officer

City of London Open Spaces                                                                        

Hampstead Heath

David.humphries@cityoflondon.gov.uk

 

DSC00328.JPG

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