Looking Ahead to Autumn!

Although it often feels as though we never really had a summer this year, it is starting to draw to a close over the next couple of months. Possibly the only difference we will notice is slightly colder rain!

Our deciduous trees at the latter end of the summer start to prepare themselves for winter, drawing down their energy reserves into the root system. The chlorophyll which enables the leaves to turn sunlight into food is reabsorbed by the tree, and as the green fades from the leaves, the trees display a riot of colours, as other pigments within the leaves reflect the light. The leaves start to drop, a process known as abscission. This is part of the tree’s preparation for winter, shedding parts which are no longer efficient. Losing its leaves also reduces a tree’s resistance to wind, and lessens the effect of snow and ice. Should a branch be snapped off in a winter storm, the tree should recover to a large extent and continue growing in the spring. While trees are dormant, there is a far lesser risk of shock to them. This is why trees should be transplanted over the winter months, and why hedgelaying is a winter job.

We all look forward to the crisp, frosty autumn mornings with trees in full splendour, kicking our way through piles of dry leaves, and munching autumn fruits (and maybe a spot of cider making thrown in). We have all pricked our fingers trying to get at conkers, then burnt them trying to roast chestnuts. Most of us have trodden on pieces of nutshell at Christmas, and I’m sure I’m not the only impatient person to have spat out an unripe apple in disgust!

But while we do battle in our own little ways with these things, they represent far more than a minor discomfort or a part of Christmas. A part of the tree’s annual cycle is the production of future generations. More meaningful to most of us as nuts, berries and so on, it is the culmination of the summer’s work for the tree. It produces offspring (or fruit) just before the winter to ensure the survival of the species in the event of the tree dying over the winter months.

So what can we do to help our trees over the next few months? There is no simple answer to this. While trees can manage very well left to their own devices, with various defences should they become damaged, they are invariably in the wrong place for this to be a safe option.  Where tree failure could present a hazard to people or property, a quick visual inspection may highlight potential problems. Following a well established framework for a Visual Tree Assessment, various issues can be addressed with remedial action undertaken if necessary. It is far easier to remove a hazardous branch from above a conservatory roof than from the conservatory roof after it has failed! Ivy can hide a multitude of weak points within a tree, and can itself cause a problem due to its sail effect against the wind.

Any major works to trees, such as pollards, or reductions which due to other circumstances are more severe than might be recommended, should be considered at this time of year, giving plenty of time to allow works to be agreed and then completed while the tree is at its least vulnerable.

Or, what about adding some autumn colour to your garden ready for next year? Here are a few ideas of trees to plant this winter for really good Autumn colour next year:

Liquid Ambar, Red Oak, Most varieties of Maple (Acers), Tulip Tree

A day in the life of a Tree Surgeon – All in a day’s work!

First things first; a large cup of strong black coffee. Well, we are working on a Saturday! Today the team and I are heading to Stonehouse, to start dismantling two very large Leylandii conifers. The trees in question are inside the boundary of a busy timber yard, which is why we are working over the weekend. The process is far easier and quicker with the whole car park to work in, rather than having to drop the entire tree into a tiny space (which we have done so many times before!).

So coffee in hand, I pop into the office to sort out the paperwork for the day. Risk Assessments, Method Statement, check the kit list and the weather forecast. Amazingly, it looks pretty good, although maybe a little too warm (tree surgeons are never quite happy with the weather – it is invariably too hot, too cold or too just right!).

I put the relevant paperwork into the truck, and then load up the kit. It seems we need just about all of it, so on go six chainsaws of varying sizes, all the fuel and oil, signs, tape, three sets of climbing kit and one of rigging kit, helmets, waterproofs, tools, wedges, axes, spares, shovel, rake, fork, blower etc. Just as I finish loading the kit on, Tom and Greg arrive for work (I’m sure they hide until I finish) and we set off.

"That's the easy bit done" ~ Dismantling a large Leylandii in Gloucestershire

“That’s the easy bit done” ~ Dismantling a large Leylandii in Gloucestershire

On arrival at site, we are given a brief site induction (toilets, washroom, and coffee machine), and go through the paperwork. Greg has been volunteered to climb today, so he organises his side of the job while Tom and I set up a cordon, signs and fuelling zone for the chainsaws. We have a quick Chinese parliament on the procedure for the work and Greg makes a start, quickly gaining his main anchor point from which to dismantle the rest of the tree. This must be high enough to enable access throughout the tree’s branches, but must also be strong enough to support the climber. The first few branches can be cut and dropped into the car park, so we make good progress. Greg fells out some stems in large pieces, while Tom and I cut them up and feed the chipper. By ten o’clock, the sun is very warm (too hot!) and our patch of shade is getting smaller. The client is keeping the wood, and the chip is being spread along a messy border to tidy it up, so we start our wood pile. It will be getting quite big by the end of the job!

Some of the taller stems are pulled over with a line, while Greg ensures accuracy with his trademark felling cuts. Greg takes a lot of pride in his felling, consistently landing trees where he wants them, even with only inches to spare either side. Our customers are always impressed!

"Greg goes out on a limb!" ~ Removing the lower branches

“Greg goes out on a limb!” ~ Removing the lower branches

Once we have removed the easier branches, we progress onto some very simple rigging. This involves placing a snatch block (a heavy duty pulley) high in the tree, to use as a lowering point. It also means we can lower chunks of wood directly onto our wood pile, saving some heavy lifting later on! We rig off some sections above the fence, preventing any damage. This technique requires good teamwork to be done effectively, and we are lucky enough to have a strong team. Needless to say, there is a fair amount of banter within the group (often aimed at me!) but this only reinforces the team’s effectiveness. As The Boss, I only really worry when the banter stops. That’s when I know there’s a problem!

On the other side of the fence is a wide grass verge, so we set up signs next to the pavement, and I don a hi viz. Working alongside a pavement and road requires even more vigilance, so I monitor pedestrian movement, and control Greg’s cutting to ensure safety. Once the branches are on the ground, I throw them over the fence to Tom, who chips them. Several pedestrians are quite elderly, so I make sure they know they have been spotted, and that it is safe for them. Although we are only dropping onto the grass area, I like to make sure pedestrians don’t feel intimidated by us, so I always give them a cheerful greeting, and walk them though the area if they are unsure.

The tops of three stems are the last big part of the dismantle, which are again pulled over on a line. Greg’s main anchor point is the last one to go, and because of its growth habit, we tie it off to the Landrover. This ensures that it cannot sit back on the saw when Greg fells it. It is only a precaution, but it is much easier to tie it off before we start cutting than realise later that we should have!

Chogging down the main stem

“Almost down!” ~ Chogging down the main stem

The final part of what has been a tiring and busy day for all of us is for Greg to ‘chog’ the stem down. This means cutting the wood off in sections, and dropping them into a safe designated drop zone – in this case onto our woodchip border. The chip softens the impact of the falling sections, and prevents them bouncing around. Tom and I haul the sections out of the way each time to provide space for Greg to drop the next one.

Finally, the stem is down, and the tree has been turned into a pile of timber and chip. Greg has done a fantastic job of dismantling the entire tree safely and professionally, Tom has been brilliant as usual, clearing up and chipping.

And what did I do?

My job as site supervisor is to not only carry out whatever work needs to be done, but to oversee all the health and safety issues on a tree work site, keep an eye on where everyone is and what they are doing (which includes the public as well) and keep the work moving to whatever schedule we have. Having such a good team on the ground, and with Ceri keeping everything under control (not to mention helping out on site whenever she can) makes my job a lot easier.

We’ll be back tomorrow to finish the last of this tree, and make a start on tree number two. I have a feeling I will be climbing that one, just to prove the old man can still play with the troops!!

Now maybe we should all go for a beer . . .