Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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UK & Ireland Tree Climbing Competition 2023

Author:  Mark Buglioni
Last Updated:  05/12/2023

Mark Buglioni, Assistant Technical Officer

The excitement of the UK and Ireland Tree Climbing Competition (UK&ITCC) kicked off the Association’s five days in Warwick for this year’s conference.

We were very pleased to bring the competition and the conference back together in 2023 as an opportunity to bridge and connect different disciplines within the industry. For those who haven’t been to a climbing competition yet, I highly recommend you check one out. Climbing competitions are a showcase of the hands-on skills arborists use every day in their work. At the forefront of tree care, climbing arborists embrace an incredibly dynamic and very exciting profession and therefore their work translates well into a competitive format. Despite this, the events have a light atmosphere and a welcoming, community feel.

On Friday 8th September, before the competition began, event organisers gave the climbers a tour of the selected trees so they could map out a game-plan. Agility, strength and speed are critical to efficiency in the tree and thus to scoring the most points on each different station at a competition.

Day 1: Preliminary round

There are five stations in the preliminary round. When the competition kicked off on the Saturday, climbers competed to score on throwline targets in the canopy, ascend as quickly as possible on a stationary rope system (SRS) line, complete a detailed aerial rescue and a detailed work climb with a variety of tasks, and race up a tree in the belayed speed climb.

For a new climber, the friendly community at a competition makes it a great place to learn. The climbers chatted throughout the day, mapping the challenges and sharing tips. For the arborist gear junkie, climbing competitions are a dream. From flashy rope bags and colourful helmets to a variety of ascending equipment, the newest kit is always on display. And for the seasoned climber, the competition is a great chance to prove your skill amongst the best in the UK and Ireland.

UK&ITCC 2023 at University of Warwick Conference 2023 Stella Bolam

UK&ITCC 2023 winners Michael Curwen and Jo Hedger.

UK&ITCC 2023 at University of Warwick
UK&ITCC 2023 at University of Warwick

This year, adding to the challenge, the event happened to coincide with some of the hottest days of the year in the UK. Keeping hydrated and fuelled was a must throughout the long days of competition. As the competition progressed, it was amazing to see the dedication and passion the climbers exhibited when concentrating on the stations.

The goal was to score as high as possible on the Saturday in order to move on to the prestigious Masters competition on the Sunday. We saw climbers of all different skill levels size up the trees and give it their best shot (literally with the throwline). In the end, after a long day of preliminary competition, five male and three female competitors were selected to advance.

Day 2: Masters

By Sunday, the weather had slightly cooled for the Masters competitors and some rain had coated the tree – just to add one final layer of difficulty. Unlike the preliminary event, the climbers now only had one tree to conquer. That said, the Masters tree, a Platanus species, required an extensive list of skills in a challenging 25-minute window.

Conference delegates began to show up and check out the top competitors. The crowd offered support when the climbers worked through pressure and frustration. Mental focus is key to climbers keeping on track in the tree. While one climber competed, the others had to wait in a nearby building so they couldn’t visually map out the final challenge. The suspense continued to grow for the last competitors as climbers left the building one by one, but that didn’t stop them from achieving top scores.

Finally, all competitors, volunteers and fans convened in the Faculty of Arts Building for the prize ceremony. The atmosphere was positive as everyone chatted about the challenges, failures and successes. The organisers prepared the scores, and the winners were finalised. The scores for all climbers were announced to great cheers and much emotion. To cap the event off, everyone congratulated Jo Hedger and Michael Curwen for snagging their respective gold medals.

The top male and female competitors from the event will represent the UK and Ireland at the European Tree Climbing Competition and winners from that event will go on to the International Tree Climbing Competition in 2024.

We couldn’t do it without you…

No climbing competition is possible without a dedicated team of organisers and volunteers. Every volunteer involved with the UK and Ireland competition dedicated their entire weekend (or for the organisers much longer) to help, and they did a fantastic job. The UK&ITCC volunteer crew are all incredibly passionate about arboriculture and such a fun bunch to be around. While scoring climbers, checking gear or maintaining safety they are always supportive, positive and smiling.

A massive thank you to Petzl, the sponsors of the event, and our other prize suppliers too for sending no climber home empty handed: Arbortec, Buxtons, Courant, CTS Forestry and Arb, Eastern Arboriculture Training, Honey Brothers, Marlow, MediArb, Scannable, Silky, Stein and Tudor Environmental. And of course, a massive thank you to the entire volunteer team.

We hope to see you climbing at the next UK and Ireland Tree Climbing Competition!

This article was taken from Issue 203 Winter 2023 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.