In the spring of 2010, arborist climber Xavier Ubeda went to work with some trees on a property on Moines Island in the Gulf of Morbihan. It was here that he assisted Raphaël Dubuc and Alain Gourmaud, two instructors in the profession of arborist climbing. The goal of the day was to trim large dead branches from pine trees (Pinus radiata) that overhung a footpath along the coast.
The road is public access and the owners of the property alongside it are required to maintain the trees on their property and maintain a satisfactory level of safety for the users of the path.
The work begins on large trees of 25 to 30 meters. Using a throw bag and a false crotch, the team first places an access rope in the top of the trees. This cord also serves as a security rope that enables the men at the foot of the tree to quickly access their teammates in case they need to help them (accident, loss of consciousness, etc). Because of this, it's best to fix the rope at a high point in the centre of the tree.
Once they have reached the highest part of the part of the tree, the arborist climbers rig their work ropes: two ropes are used to move about in the tree and to position themselves in the work area. The use of two distinctly anchored ropes is a relatively recent statutory obligation to ensure the safety of workers in case an anchor fails or one of the ropes is compromised. To secure the area on the ground beneath the work area, the path is redirected before the work begins.
Once all of these safety precautions are in place, the trimming of the dead branches can be safely begun. A wood chipper is set up onsite to turn the dead branches into mulch, which will be scattered throughout the park's mountains.
In good weather the Gulf of Morbihan is a magnificent place and a day's work in this exceptional setting is a unique reward for these three men.
Alain Gournaud interview
Petzl: What makes an arborist climber want to do this kind of work?
AG : First off, the arborist climber performs his work with a living vision of the environment. Ideally, men and trees are here to coexist but too often the pressures of urban life require us to intervene. So our objective is to ensure the trees are best adapted to their environmental constraints. And to do this without drastically cutting them, which is extremely damaging to the trees. All too often certain arborist climbers forget they are working on a living organism and treat a tree as if it's a simple piece of furniture.
A good arborist climber knows the different species of trees and their characteristics (strength, flexibility, diseases). His core expertise lies in his ability to anticipate the growth of a tree and to work based on this knowledge. Unfortunately, the radical cutting and sometimes slaughter of trees are all too often the consequence of a mistake in planting (the wrong tree in the wrong place) or the lack of regular care, including the pruning of a tree, when it's young. The arborist climber should also know how to stay humble and never forget that mistakes are always possible.
But in the end, things are moving in the right direction. Young arborist climbers, thanks to their training and the advances made in the study and technique of tree trimming, are more prudent than their predecessors.
Petzl : What is the typical day of an arborist climber like?
AG : Each day is different and takes place in a variety of different places (parks, private gardens, public spaces and collectives).
On the work site, there is always a first stage where we secure the site (cordon off the perimeter). We then place the access in the trees. Finally, we begin the work. Next, we take down the ropes, organize them, check our equipment and make any repairs or replacements that are needed. An arborist climber's work does not end there. He also has an important advisory role. He understands that sometimes he must act as a ‘tree consultant'. He also must, of course, make estimates and produce invoices.
Petzl : Is it a difficult job?
AG : Being an arborist climber is very physical and requires a strict lifestyle. You must be in good shape and be able to stay focused for many hours. You work up high, on ropes, with a chain saw, cutting tools, and sometimes you have to move heavy loads. It's a job where you must be well organized, thorough, careful and precise.
There are now strict rules that must be followed and mistakes are not forgiven. Serious or fatal accidents are not uncommon. But what a pleasure it is to work outdoors on a team where everyone knows they can count on each other.
There is a real community spirit among arborist climbers. We feel a real satisfaction to see and observe the fruits of our labour: beautiful trees that live in harmony with their surroundings.
Petzl : And what are the difficulties of the job?
AG : The biggest difficulties are always present when we work in the public domain, close to roads and power lines. The management of all the administrative permits and the organization of the sites are the biggest challenges.
Petzl : How does one become an arborist climber these days?
AG : Unfortunately, the training and certification for the specialisation of tree care and cutting is not required to work in this profession. However, there is training required to acquire the basic skills necessary for the growth and management of ornamental trees.
It's a minimum 560-hour training program, which is provided in specialised training centres. This training is very popular with young people who come from the landscaping business and forestry. Today, there are around 45 centres in France that offer this training. It's now a specialised field and those with a high degree of skill are recognised.
The knowledge and skill set of the arborist climber are also available through continuing education. Many centres offer training of this nature (climbing/movement, techniques for cutting and rigging, removal techniques, caring for wounded trees, etc.). Regarding the last topic, training classes are regularly held that cover access and rescue techniques. I, along with Raphaël Dubuc, am also part of a work group that is currently working on editing a national guideline.
It's now one of the requirements of this business. Each person on the work site must be able to come to the rescue of, and provide first aid to, one of his work colleagues in a very short time.
Petzl : What are your favourite Petzl products for this work?
AG : I particularly appreciate a product like the ALVEO, which is very well suited for this job, the quality connectors are long lasting and that's important, the ASCENTREE, without a doubt Petzl is the mechanical ascender specialist, the SWIVEL central bridge and the new BUCKET sacs are very practical and well-designed for the work.
Employed by Patrice Roger, Arbre et Compétence.
Certified tree-cutting and tree care specialist since 1992)
Specialist in Japanese pruning, a technique of regular trimming using a hand saw and shears on the buds and stems, to control the development of the trees. The anticipation and control of growth by this technique preserves the natural appearance of the trees and minimises drastic interventions.
Xavier also participates every year as a judge at the arborist climber championships that are organised by the society of French arboriculture at the heart of the national arboriculture meetings.
Certified tree-cutting and tree care specialist since 2000.
Trainer of four years at maison familiale rurale de Pointel
Truth be told, Raphaël spends his life in the trees. He spends his free time mentoring young climbers in the methods of free accrobranche, a style of moving in trees without fixed gear. These cloud walkers move like alpinists, securing their ropes as they progress.
Certified tree-cutting and tree care specialist since 1992), trainer since 1997 at the Centre for Professional Training and Agricultural Promotion of Tours Fondette.
Alain is also the president of the Copalme association, one goal of whom is to promote the safety of arborist climbers at work.
When he is not working Alain is a passionate scuba diver.
Focus on Copalme
The goals of the Copalme Association (Committee for the promotion of ornamental arboriculture and the art of tree pruning climbers)
- Promote the sharing of knowledge and the experience of the art.
- Promote and improve the prevention of risks in the business of ornamental arboriculture.
- Conceptualise and participate in the development of specialised professional equipment.
- Publish to inform and educate about the evolution of technological knowledge and techniques.
- Develop state of the art practices of ornamental arboriculture from the development of the species to the recycling of remnants.
In 2010 the association publishes the Mémento pour l'arborist, a very comprehensive book that deals with health and safety on tree trimming work sites. The book covers aspects of hygiene, regulatory and technical issues related to security, by sharing the current state of knowledge.
At the same time, Copalme has developed a portable emergency kit that attaches to the climbers harness.
The association is now working on a second book (Mémento de l'arborist, volume 2) which covers topics about the trees of the arborist climbers (biology, architecture, cutting, ecology, tree mechanics, best practices, etc.) The release is scheduled for 2012.