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out on a limb

STIHL has added a new dimension to urban forestry in South Africa with a benchmark course in tree surgery, or arboriculture, presented by tree arborist Mark Brewer of the UK.

Eight candidates, all highly skilled in the use of chainsaws, were trained by Brewer earlier this year. The two groups, consisting of four candidates each - the maximum that are trained at a time ¬were put through a tough three-week course in Pietermaritzburg. The first group consisted of Zithathele Jali from eThekweni Municipality, Benjamin Steyn from Tshwane Municipality, Russel Meaker from Practical Solutions in Cape Town and Henry Luiters from Concordia, and the second group of Marius Taljaard from Enviro Chainsaws in Pretoria, Gareth Lombard from Practical Solutions, Rashaad Fisher from Cape Town Municipality and STIHLs Waldo Ne!.Their progress will be assessed by Brewer during a follow-up course next year, after which they'll be able to qualify as instructors of tree arboring.

The course consisted of four modules:
• Basic tree climbing and aerial rescue;
• Using a chainsaw from a rope and/or harness;
• Pruning operations, crown thinning and crown reduction;
• Dismantling operations, including lowering sections of a tree with ropes and felling upright sections for free fall.

Marius Taljaard, an industry stalwart with 24 years' experience, trains operators for the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry and municipalities countrywide. He says the course "blew his mind". "The safe felling of trees in an urban environment, often in very confined spaces, without damage to buildings, is a science. We were taught how to approach different trees, choosing the correct angle of cut, using the correct climbing techniques - supported by a groundsman at all times - and other subjects relating to tree surgery. On a lighter note, climbing 100-feet gum trees also cured me of my fear of heights and helped me develop a welcome six pack!"

Mark Brewer has worked all over the world, including the rain forests of South America where he honed his skills in one of the toughest forestry environments on the planet. He is the owner/director of Sussex-based MGC, a company that specialises in the training of all aspects relating to forestry and arboricultural operations.

"We want our customers to raise the level of their arboricultural and horticultural skills," says Dave Hutton, General Manager of STIHL SA. "In arboring, it is essential that people know what they are doing as inexperience in both the use of the equipment and the techniques can cause serious injury."

This is no exaggeration. In 2004, several deaths were reported from the arboricultural industry in South Africa alone. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive last year identified tree surgery as the most dangerous occupation in that country. Safety precautions, risk assessments, protective clothing and comprehensive training are therefore essential to minimise risk.

Three STIHL chainsaws are popular in this environment: the top-handle MS 200 T which fits to a lanyard tied to the operator's harness, the MS 440 for debranching and cross cutting and the MS 660 for heavy-duty work on the ground.