There was a time, way back, when the Virtual Ranger really was a ranger – complete with Land-Rover, chainsaw and radio. An enjoyable feature of that status was the number of people who said to me ‘Ooo, what a lovely job! I wish I did that.” Not that I felt inferior in any way to my peers who’d gone straight from university into accounting, commercial publishing, finance and so on; nor was I jealous of their allegedly prodigious remunerations. Still, I couldn’t help but crack an inner smile when I imagined how rarely “I’m a merchant banker” would have been greeted by “Ooo, what a lovely job…”.
These days I spend most of my days pushing a mouse, and don’t get to see the countryside as often as I’d like. So you can probably see the glee in my face in the picture above, where I actually get to climb a tree as a part of my job. Yes, friends, they paid me to do this: your taxes strapped me in and hoisted me up. Thanks! And if you want to know why, read on.
Appley Park is a delightful seaside park on the north of the Isle of Wight, which also has access to the vast golden expanse of Appley Sands. It’s the Island’s only Green Flag park and a busy and popular location with locals – as tourists tend to head further south to the better-known beaches. So when I was approached by the Island’s famous recreational tree climbing firm, Goodleaf, I was delighted to let them run a tree-climbing activity in the park to attract visitors, and particularly to promote the things Appley is special for: the mature coastal woodland, and that fantastic view over to the mainland. Seen in the picture above is kiwi climber Paul McCathie (left), instructing the leader of the Isle of Wight Council, Cllr Mr David Pugh, who also climbed the Goodleaf tree as part of the launch event. Colleagues shook their heads when I said I was going to organise an event involving hoisting the Leader up a tree – with the media there to watch. But I did – and it was all legitimate. Paul is an inspirational character who clearly loves trees. Trained as a tree surgeon, he says he got fed up with “doing unethical things to trees” and set up Goodleaf with his partner Abigail to redress the balance. “I want to encourage people to fall in love with trees again.” he suggests. Goodleaf has a had a big impact on the Island and beyond. It’s the sort of quirky but ethical recreation that the Island does best. Goodleaf know a few things about publicity, and so not only did they ensure the launch event went off like clockwork, they also provided a six-foot red squirrel to climb up alongside Cllr Pugh.
The chirpy chap was there to underline the ethical nature of the exercise – red squirrels are the emblem of nature conservation on the Isle of Wight, and so local conservation charity Gift to Nature was along to help the launch. And of course, they brought their squirrel, and, of course, how could a squirrel not climb the tree? Our ginger pal was the star of the show, and shinned up the rope like one of his smaller cousins. What’s more, despite the heat of the day and being more-or-less blind, he kept the full costume on all the way and, keeping in character, didn’t even speak until he was far enough up to avoid the kids below hearing the muffled exclamations from within Tufty’s head. He didn’t even rise to the bait when every wag on the ground made the same joke about the squirrel’s nuts. That’s dedication. I didn’t ascend nearly so far as my younger and, dare I say, lighter, co-climbers, but I coasted to a halt a stately 7m or so above the ground, just in the lower canopy of the grand oak. While the squirrel and the leader raced for the top far above, I swung gently and wondered at the view. It really was a splendid and quite exhilarating experience; and showed off Appley in a new and very flattering way. It’s part of my job to promote the sustainable use of the Island’s parks and countryside, and I could be quite confident that this event was a major contribution to that goal.
On the Island this summer? Want to climb? You can climb just like I did! Every Sunday 12th July to 30th August 2009, weather permitting. Details here.