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Branching Out: An Interview with Go Ape's Senior Tree Officer

on All Things Trees and His Role in Protecting Them

Published on: 31/05/23

If you've ever been to Go Ape, you know how important trees are to the entire Go Ape experience. From the Tarzan swings to the zip lines, trees are the backbone of our courses. But, have you ever wondered who is responsible for caring for the trees that you zip through? Well, our Senior Tree Officer, Chris Jones, is the man behind the scenes. 

In this blog, we will be interviewing him about his role at Go Ape, what his day-to-day looks like, and some interesting facts about trees.

1) Can you tell us about your role at Go Ape?


As Go Ape's Senior Tree Officer, my role is to manage and maintain the tree stock at our various locations. I am an arboriculturist, which means I am knowledgeable in the management of trees and their associated risks. While I am well-versed in the ins and outs of tree management, there are many different areas within the sector such as Silviculture (forestry), propagation and fruit production.

While some may call me a tree expert, I prefer to use the term arboriculturist as it accurately reflects my knowledge set within the amenity and recreational use of trees. Ultimately, my job is to manage the safety and health of the trees at Go Ape, while also providing an enjoyable experience for our customers.

2) How did you end up working in arboriculture and land your job at Go Ape?


I didn’t exactly fall into arboriculture, but it wasn't a straightforward journey either. After completing my GCSEs and A-levels, I pursued a degree in teaching, following in my mother's footsteps. However, I quickly realised it wasn't the career for me and ended up working at a garden centre.

A conversation with one of my colleagues about a future career led to him telling me about a friend of his that was a tree surgeon (Arborist). He worked for nine months of the year and travelled for the remaining three months.

Intrigued by the lifestyle and the outdoors, I decided to become an Arborist myself. I had a passion for adventure and heights, and a fascination with engines and loud stuff, making me the perfect candidate for the job.

I then pursued a foundation degree in Arboriculture at Warwickshire College, topping it up to an honours degree, which I planned to use as a backup to my Arborist career.

After working for an Arborist for a year, I started to develop frustrations due to not having the opportunity to use my knowledge set. I took a role as a Consultant Arboriculturist, where I worked my way up to becoming the Consultancy manager. Eventually, I landed a job at Go Ape, where I have been for the past four years. It's been a fascinating journey, and I'm grateful for every opportunity that led me here.

3) What are some of the most commonly asked questions you hear when people find out you're the ‘Tree Guy’ at Go Ape?

People are always intrigued when they find out that I cover all 34 of our sites. I often get quizzed with a million different questions about trees. It's funny how people always seem to have a tree in their garden that they need advice on, and it just goes to show how little understanding the general public has about trees.

People ask me about everything from pests and diseases that they've heard about in the news to the best way to prune a fruit tree. But even as someone who is knowledgeable about trees, there are still things that we don't fully understand. At the end of the day, Mother Nature is amazing and we can only do our best to try to understand it.

Equipment to check trunk growth rate and health

4) Can you share any fascinating facts about trees or common misconceptions?


One common myth is that tree roots go down as deep as the tree's height. However, research shows that up to 90% of tree roots are within the top metre of the soil, making them effectively shallow.

Another misconception is that trees are dangerous when they move. But in reality, trees need to flex and bend with the wind to disperse the wind load and avoid breaking.

Trees are optimised structures that grow towards sunlight and put on additional growth in certain areas to support themselves.  Leaning trees are not necessarily dangerous as they grow in a way to support themselves and become the biggest, tallest tree in the area. The movement of trees is actually beneficial as it stimulates growth and makes them stronger. Trees are remarkable organisms that continue to amaze and fascinate me with their unique abilities.

Equipment to examine root health

5) Can you tell us about the different types of trees across Go Ape locations, What’s the process of building a new site like the upcoming Hylands Park site?


We have a very diverse collection of trees across our sites. We carefully select the trees we build our courses on based on their size, strength, and long-term health.

We inspect each tree visually, checking for any major defects such as decay, which is the main concern. If we suspect decay, we use specialist equipment such as a Resi drill, which is a micro drill that drills a very small bit into the tree and the device will measure the resistance it takes to drill in.

So, very simply, a higher resistance indicates that it’s sound and solid wood. Meanwhile, lower resistance is an indication of decay.

And then there's the other piece of kit called a Picus, which is a Sonic tomograph. This device can calculate if there's any decay depending how long sound waves takes to go through the tree using modelling within the computer software. This then determines if that reading shows decay or not, and creates a 2D cross-sectional image to show you the decay. 

Maintaining the trees is also crucial, and we conduct annual inspections to monitor their health and prevent ground compaction that could damage the shallow roots. Our equipment and techniques may be specialised, but our commitment to preserving and utilising healthy, sturdy trees is what makes our courses safe and enjoyable experience for our customers.

6) So, what does your day-to-day look like in this role?


My day-to-day work involves a variety of tasks that keep me busy and challenged. One of the main things I do is monitor the health and safety of the trees we use, managing risks associated with building on trees, ensuring that all safety measures are in place and the risks are acceptable.

I also provide support and guidance to the sites and new designs that come our way. On top of that, I'm always looking to improve the knowledge within the company and among our customers.

That's why I'm excited to do this interview, as it provides me with an opportunity to share my expertise and educate others about trees.

Despite not having ecology in my job description, I'm always ready to help out - like this morning when a bat was found on the course! All in all, my job is dynamic, and I enjoy the challenge of solving problems as they arise while also contributing to the overall growth and development of our employee-owned company.

7) If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I can confirm that if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, it does indeed make a sound. In fact, it makes a very loud sound. Trees are incredibly strong, and the force required to break them is immense. When a tree falls, all that energy is released, causing a loud thud that can even shake the ground beneath it. I've witnessed many trees falling during my time as an Arborist, and the sound is unmistakable. So, even if there's no one around to hear it, rest assured that a falling tree makes a sound.

8) Lastly, what is your favourite thing about being the Senior Tree Officer at Go Ape?

My favourite thing about this job is the high priority that is put on tree management, it means I can consider all options when managing our trees. It's a unique career, and I love being able to share my love and knowledge of trees with others. Plus, Go Ape’s culture is amazing with the strong values and, in recent years, transition to employee ownership.

Next time you're zipping through the trees on a Go Ape course, take a moment to appreciate the care that goes into ensuring the safety and health of our trees. Senior Tree Officer, Chris, is one of the many people behind the scenes who make Go Ape such a unique place. We hope you enjoyed learning more about his role and some interesting facts about trees along the way. Keep adventuring, and always remember to respect the trees!

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