Thursday, 3 May 2012

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

The National Trust has compiled a list of things that every child should do before the age of 11 3/4. One of them is to climb a tree. I would go further. Tree climbing ought to be a regular activity until the age of 65.

There is, however, a problem. Our local council proposes to ban tree-climbing in all its parks, including the large semi-rural one that my children and I walk through to and from school each day. In future, I would have to pay £500 for the privilege of swarming one of the oaks in the wood, unless I could satisfy the council that I had a reasonable excuse. Retrieving a stuck kite would not be a reasonable excuse, for the council plans to ban kite-flying too.

For £500 I could take out a six-month membership of our local David Lloyd gym and my children could exercise safely in a risk-assessed, temperature-controlled environment which has a mission statement and a latte machine.

But I shan't.

I shall continue to encourage them to climb trees and I shall continue to climb them myself. If need be I shall stage a one-woman protest from the crown of my favourite horse chestnut. For tree-climbing brings with it benefits that would be seized upon by a more enlightened authority:

It taught me diplomacy as I battled my brother over the most accommodating branch in our grandmother's garden.



It fostered my intellect as I revised for my A-Levels among the leaves of a local sycamore.



It forged friendships as I trialled new acquaintances with the offer of beer on a bough.



It bonds generations.



It has quickened my wits and my muscles and developed my social outreach as, with increasing regularity, I have had to call upon passing walkers to help me down.



Above all it has given me a unique perspective on the world through a lofty screen of leaves. There is a peace at the top of a tree that is seldom found outside churches and there a communion with Nature, as you dangle from gnarled bark, that is unequalled on solid ground.



In its heart of hearts the council understands this for, in its best-loved park, it has overruled local opposition and leased prime acres to Go Ape, the forest adventure company which, for a substantial entrance fee, enables customers to, er -  climb trees.

Would you let your children climb a tree? Can you suggest a 'reasonable excuse' to spare me a fine should an official discover me or mine dangling from a branch?

34 comments:

  1. My children do climb trees, as does my husband (sometimes with a live chainsaw). We've only suffered a broken wrist at a Birthday party so far. The Olympic swimmer (1980 Moscow Games) Duncan Goodhew fell out a tree aged 10 and lost all his hair due to his fall. It didn't stop him winning a medal.

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    1. I've climbed trees all my life and so far broken nothing. The more you climb the more skilled you become so toddlers should be let lose on Giant Redwoods!

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  2. Take your cat to the park and put him in the tree when nobody is looking. Then you'll have a reasonable excuse. Might seem a bit odd the 10th time your cat gets stuck in a tree at the same park, but hey they can't ban cat rescuing

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    1. That's an ingenious idea. But do I need a cat or can I just claim the existence of one as I fumble about the leaf canopy?

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  3. I can't believe your council wants to do this?! Tree climbing is fab - I love the way your passion for exploring and sitting atop branches has been passed down to your children. Your photographs are great. Wish I'd revised for my A'levels up a tree - I was sat behind a bland formica desk instead. Knitty Mummy has a very good plan!

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    1. It's not to late. You culd do your tax returns/Christmas cards up a tree.

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  4. I love this post! Go Anna go! Perhaps you could tell the council that tree climbing brings you closer to god. How could they argue with this?

    I revised for my O levels in roller skates on the carpet in my bedroom. I had completely forgotten this until I read your post. x

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    1. Wow, you must have had quite a bedroom. Telling the council my leafy loftines is an act of worship is a good one.

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  5. Go Anna - fight the bastards!

    Shall we have a tree in?

    Can we?

    (love the pictures x)

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  6. It all depends on whether they can give you a 'reasonable excuse' as to why you can't.
    Our local Children's Centre was holding 'risky play' sessions at one point, as children these days are not exposed to much risk in our 'elf and safety culture.
    Such a sad state of affairs really.
    Although the fact that health care professionals are trained, it seems, to question every minor scrape these days (and I understand when they do; it's just common sense has gone from the equation) probably puts parents off taking risks, and councils are terrified of being sued.
    I would ask to sign a disclaimer. Let me up the tree.

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    1. I'm only too aware of the risks. My heart's in my mouth every time my 9yo perches aloft over a rocky plateau. But I know that the more I trust her the safer she'll become.

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    2. Absolutely. We adopt the same approach here- if they are not allowed to take the risk they never get the chance to learn how to. I have quite frankly a dangermouse youngest child who I could not prevent from climbing if I wanted too, and he is a robust little fella as a result of his endeavours/misdemeanours!

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  7. I love the photos!

    You touch on an interesting point. We went to a NT property (in the pouring rain, of course) t'other day, where they were offering supervised tree climbing (in the same tree that my daughter fell out of when we were doing, um, unsupervised tree climbing, funnily enough). I had a moan then about how difficult it is to find trees that children are allowed to climb.

    Mine have been climbing trees ever since they could walk, and we have been shoo-ed away from numerous. We tend to adopt an apologetic stance and say we're so very sorry; we weren't aware that trees weren't for climbing, and we'll never do it again - then climb again once the guard person has moved off.

    My daughter is a particular offender so far as falling out of trees is concerned, but I think it is part of being a child (especially one with an older brother).

    I only wish my arthritic hips still allowed me to climb trees too...

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    1. NT guardsmen have told us off for rolling down slopes as well which is odd because slope-rolling is on their list of must-do thrills.

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  8. I don't think I've ever climbed a tree. Maybe one day. If I get a second wind at some point.

    You look ever so like Lady Di in that second picture. You've even got her wistful gaze.

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    1. You can take very arty photos from tree tops. I used to get called Lady Di all the time to my annoyance because I was me before she'd ever been heard of!

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  9. Is the council concerned about damage to you or to their trees? Seems a shame, since the treetops are the only dog dirt-free places in your neck of the woods...

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    1. They're not, though. People bag up their dog poo and hang the knotted sacs from branches.

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  10. No silly tree climbing rules where I live. My eldest swings from one over the river and then falls/jumps in, hopefully after he's removed his phone...

    I used to climb the large Bramley apple tree in my mum's garden all the time when younger. I had a nice little perch and read there until it because uncomfortable. I never remembered to take a cushion though... Sometimes I used to wish I could live up there.

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    1. Where we lived until recently there was a rope from a tree over a stream which we all swung on gleefully. Until the day we arrived to find an air ambulance. The huge bough had broken and fallen on the head of a swinging teenage boy. It's slightly put me off rope dangling.

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  11. Great photos and lovely post! I am going to climb a tree as soon as possible!

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  12. Love these photographs - and love your approach to tree climbing. I'm right with you, if only my daughter would hurry up and learn to walk. As soon as she's taking steps on her own we'll meet you at the top of that tree.

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    1. I'll be waiting. But you may have to help me down!

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  13. I'm with you in spirit but my feet stay firmly on the ground. It's only a matter of time before we see signs saying: No Playing in the Park.

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    1. The green areas around our local tower blocks already bear signs saying 'No ball games'.

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  14. I think you should explain to the council that you have no other option but to swing from tree to tree as to avoid stepping in the huge amount of dog poo spotted over (nearly) every inch of the grren green grass!
    "No ball games, this area is specifically designated for dog pooing purposes only" is what the signs should read.
    Love your photos! X

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  15. What is the world coming to? Great blog post, I'm currently reading 'Last Child in the Woods - saving our children from nature deficit disorder'. Im finding it pretty alarming and this kind of draconian control by 'authorities' seems all too common. Let kids (and adults) explore nature in every sense - good for the soul and mind - and backed up by scientific research. Bloody ridiculous people, really gets to me.

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    1. Maybe you could send a copy to our local council! Thanks very much for the comment.

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  16. It looks like you and your children are being eaten by a tree in one of those photos. Or have I seen the film Poltergeist too many times?

    Your local council is a nonsense. Trees WANT to be climbed upon, if you press your ears to their trunks you can hear them whisper it. Don't make trees angry (maybe I should stop watching Lord of the Rings too).

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    1. We were indeed perched perilously in a gaping maw, but in the first picture we'd climbed through the tree's derriere, up it's alimentary canal and emerged through it's mouth. Finest hollow tree I ever knew and, as you say, it LOVED having us scrabbling about its innards.

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