In April last year, our photographer friend, Andrew Walmsley, had a life-changing experience on a trip to Sumatra. Supported by Sumatran Orangutan Society, he spent several days in the field with the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit (HOCRU), part of the Orangutan Information Centre's team of dedicated conservation experts. As the team trekked through humid rainforest and rubber plantations, slipping into rivers and slapping away mosquitoes at every turn, Andrew documented their progress - from the start of their search to the moment they captured an adult male orangutan for re-release into a safer forest.
One of the riskiest and most difficult parts of the rescue process for any orangutan is bringing it from the tree safely down to the ground once it has been located and darted. In this case, as the team waited with a net tensioned out between their outstretched hands beneath the tree the big male clung to, their location on a slope and the density of the trees around them made it almost impossible to tell where he would fall. Although they caught him safely, it was a close-run thing, as large animals under sedation don't fall gracefully or land lightly and neatly, and things could have ended very differently if the net had been a few inches out.
To this end, a team of arborists from Sawpod will be jetting off to Sumatra on Easter Sunday to spend a fortnight training the HOCRU team how to climb trees and rescue fellow climbers (or orangutans) using accredited techniques. Andrew is going along to document the process and will use his images to raise awareness of the lengths charities like Sumatran Orangutan Society and Orangutan Information Centre go to to protect the remaining members of a Critically Endangered species. Not only that, but he's taking a little piece of Tentsile with him - we're supporting his journey and donating a Stingray to the team so they can have an arboreal platform from which to monitor orangutans as they prepare for rescue.
To find out more and support the team's incredible work, check out Sawpod's donation page, look up Sumatran Orangutan Society and Orangutan Information Centre on Facebook to get a sense of what the team is up against. We'll bring you more photos and stories from the field as the trip progresses.
From starry nights in Hawaiian palm trees to winter picnics in an Oxfordshire beech, there's no doubt that Tentsiles are versatile, adaptable and add magic to outdoor adventures, no matter where you go. We're devoting this blog post to some of the many fantastic customers who take our tents out to play and send us envy-making pictures of the results.
Photo courtesy of Travis Burke
The picture above was taken in Hawaii and features our friend and champion, Ryan Robinson. Professional adventurer, slack-lining expert and all-round inspiration, Ryan often takes Tentsiles to places nobody else has taken them. If the picture above doesn't make you want to pack up your tent, head for the seaside and get stuck into sandy camping and all natural ocean sounds, we don't know what will.
Photo courtesy of Parrish Phillips
Another amazing thing about the feedback from our customers? It's shown us our products are truly as family-friendly as we always hoped they would be. The above shows Parrish Phillips and co turning a Tentsile setup into a party, and this is what they had to say about it.
"Well... After several days testing out our new Tentsile gear, we are in love. We have named her 'The Ravens nest'...this is the best money I have ever spent in gear. I've never been in a camping trip where everyone wants to hang out in the tent and not by the fire... So much fun! I'll be ordering levels for 'The Ravens Nest' very soon!"
Photo courtesy of Richard Symonds
Some people think you're mad if you go camping in early March in the UK, but we just think it's brilliant. Richard Symonds and a group of his friends took their Tentsiles, firewood and lots of warm clothes and set up camp in a beech woodland a few weekends ago and had an amazing time, with wildlife, good food and not a trace of cold. You can read more about it here - you may well fancy giving it a go yourself.
Photo courtesy of Ryan Robinson
Another incredible shot from Ryan shows us what Tentsile can do when pushed to its limits. As mentioned above, Ryan is a slack-lining pro, so this isn't advised if you're inexperienced in such things, but there's a multitude of other ways of getting something new and exciting from your tent with every trip you take. We'll leave you hanging regarding the back story for this picture, as it'll be the subject of a blog in the very near future.
If this has whet your appetite for adventure, or if you're already sitting on a stash of amazing photos you'd like to share, please get in touch. We always love receiving pictures to share on Facebook and Twitter, and you might even see them on future blogs as well. Grab your Tentsiles, grab your cameras, and get going!
We've been trading for just under 2 years. We've worked hard to create a concept that surpasses the versatility offered by conventional camping solutions, increases comfortable living in the wild, get it put into production and in front of enough people so that we can sustain a new full time business!
A real learning curve for two guys that until 3 years ago hadn't touched a sewing machine.
Then last week, Back Country called. For those that do not know Back Country, they are an authority in the world of outdoor gear and equipment. Based out of Salt Lake City, Utah, Back Country have established themselves as one of the most popular US retailers over the past 20 years. “We just posted Tentsile on our social media and the response has been very exciting,” they said. “We need to get you out here ASAP do get an interview and have you give a first hand demo to our staff. Can you leave tomorrow?” Lucky I have a very understanding wife.
Next day I was boarding a plane and heading for JfK where my itinerary had me hauled up between 1am and 5am. It was hardly worth leaving the airport for the hotel room but I was glad to have a bath after the 7 hour flight as I had no idea what I was walking in to.
I was picked up at the airport after a second flight which got me into Salt Lake at 10am and thankfully, presented with a massive American cheeseburger for breakfast from a place called, “5 guys” or something. While stuffing my face in the back seat, I was taken up into the mountains and before I could wipe the grease off my chin, I was being introduced to the whole Back Country content management team. Directors, camera people, writers, testers, the lot.
My first job was to show the team how to set up a Stingray. Which, in my state of whizzing head a full belly, I rushed and got it wrong first time ( I wanted to show them I could do it in less than 5 minutes but I should have taken my time – even under pressure). I was interviewed while perched in the doorway of the Stingray, in borrowed boots. After that, the Back Country team wanted to see if they could utilize the nearby stream by getting a tent up over it!
We each had a bounce around in the Connect we set up over the stream and then got the Vista up so that everyone got a chance to be familiar with all three or our tent models. We took some time to make a few “How To” shorts and some “Top Tips” before the sun went down and we had to pack up before the evening temperature plummeted. By this point, I was feeling the effects of the 18 hour journey and full on 12 hour filming day. I was to be back on a plane within the next few hours ( after a lovely dinner ) and rounding up my whirlwind trip to the US.
This is just what you do when you are asked to teach Back Country about your start up company and range of crazy Tree Tents.
As the sun started to sink on a perfect March day, we packed the car with our Tentsile and sleeping bags, squashed blankets and pillows around the seats, and sped out of the city to find friends and trees. In the thick, new darkness at 7pm, we parked near the woods, the quiet wrapping itself around us as we shouldered our belongings and picked our way by torchlight. We peered through the shadows as our boots crunched dry leaves, looking out for firelight and the specks of moving torches we knew were ahead. When we found them, the light dancing up and down the tree trunks made the woods seem to grow and shrink around us, rekindling childhood fears and the hint of magic that travels with them.
In the fire light, two Tentsiles floated at shoulder height, welcoming us with the reflected orange glow. Inspired, we unpacked ours, letting it take shape quickly between three slim beech trees as we wrapped straps around their trunks, ratcheted everything taut, and finally, with help from the breeze, settled the fly sheet over the top to make our home for the night complete. Then, leaving our blankets in a heap in the middle, we returned to the fire and ate and talked, mesmerised by dancing flames as the wood smoke permeated our hair and weaved itself through our clothes, the smell of history and outdoor adventures already enjoyed and nostalgically missed.
The moon rose as we sat there, hanging shyly behind the trees at first, then, slowly, putting the fire to shame. We were wrapped up warm and sleep was hovering around our heads, so we called it a night and hauled ourselves off the ground, wriggling over the thresholds of our airborne cocoons with huge anticipation to make up for little grace. Sleeping bags arranged and blankets wrapped around us, we lay back revelling in comfort, and in the smugness that comes from being perfectly warm on a cold, clear night outdoors. The moon by now was high above us, bathing our tent with light so we could see each other's faces and our irrepressible grins. The wind picked up to sound like the sea, and we fell asleep beautifully quickly. Insulated and suspended, the tent moved with us as we turned over and stretched our legs, and the trees took our weight and held us safe. At 3am, we woke to a tawny owl calling, the excitement reaching our stomachs as it painted itself in our imaginations, a hunter in the dark.
In the morning, we woke up early and slipped out into the cold, reviving the embers of the fire to make coffee and breakfast, and to keep in the warmth we'd gathered in the night. We had lines in the trees, ready for climbing, and we had conversations from the ground to 25 metres up; ascending and descending, eating and drinking, enjoying the woods quietly and looking for signs of spring. The Tentsiles waited around us, ready for escape from the rain that threatened overhead, or for afternoon naps if the fire was soporific enough for that. When we packed up to go home, we brushed them down and folded them carefully, back into their bags until next time. We walked back to our cars through daffodils almost ready to flower and trees getting ready for leaves, and looked at each other knowing the Tentsiles wouldn't need to stay away for long.
All photos courtesy of Richard Symonds.
From marine biologist to specialist primate photographer via a course in climbing trees, Andrew Walmsley is a wildlife photographer on a mission: to use his work to help people connect emotionally with forests and the species that depend on them. Scaling everything from 70 metre strangler figs in the tropics to ancient oak trees in wintry woodlands, he has documented the beauty, behaviour and conservation status of scores of species and won awards and international acclaim in the process. In today's blog, we interview Andrew about why trees are the key to his photography - from the technical to the emotional - on every level.
How did you get into photography?
In early 2005, I was volunteering as the Science Officer for Cardigan Bay Marine Wildlife Centre in Wales. I'd completed my degree in Aquatic Bioscience and was carrying out distance sampling on the Centre's dolphin research boat trips. This year happened to be the first year they'd started creating photo ID catalogues, so part of my role was also photographing every bottlenose dolphin in the area. It was at this point that I realised how much I loved the challenge of photographing wildlife - on choppy seas, in squalls of rain and with a lot of things to consider and get right in terms of lighting and composition. For me, it was the perfect combination of science and creativity, and kept me close to the animals that had so interested me since I was very young.
At what point did you start to make the connection between photography and conservation?
I've always recognised the power of a strong image - I loved nature as a child, and spent hours poring over sticker albums and stunning images of wildlife from around the world. When I was documenting the dolphins, I realised that I could try to inspire people in the way that I had been inspired myself - I could take my knowledge of photography and use it to give people a connection to wildlife that they otherwise might not be able to have.
My belief in combining photography and conservation grew even firmer when I became closely involved with researchers at Oxford Brookes University in 2010. Conversations with experts in the threats facing slow lorises, orangutans and Sulawesi crested black macaques led me to make a six month trip to Indonesia in 2012, where I had my eyes opened to the diversity of life in rainforests and the terrifying scale of the threats facing them. Speaking to people at home on my return, I realised how hidden some of these threats are - deep in academic journals or in doom-laden headlines which switch people off the species concerned before they've even got to know them - and saw how effective simple, powerful images can be in getting people to look at an animal and feel something more visceral than just a passing interest.
When did you start climbing trees, and why?
The answer to that, really, is that I started climbing trees when I was a child. If my parents ever lost me, they knew they'd find me again up the nearest tree. I don't know why it took me so long to realise that I could learn to do it properly, but once I did, I didn't waste any time - I wanted to know how to get as close as possible to the habitats that harbour my favourite species. I knew that doing so would enable me to show people how the world looks from a monkey's, ape's or bird's eye view, and just how fragile that world can often be. On the technical front, I just knew the light would look different from up in the branches, and that it would give my photos a quality they'd never had before. In March 2012, I took a Basic Canopy Access Proficiency course at Westonbirt Arboretum, just a couple of weeks before leaving for Indonesia. When I got there, I was incredibly glad I'd equipped myself with the knowledge to get up high and see landscapes differently. On one particularly amazing day in South Sulawesi, I climbed a 70 metre strangler fig and spent the night sleeping up it. In the morning, the canopy spread out below me made me feel connected to trees like never before, and as the sun rose and the forest woke up with a crescendo of bird song and animal noises,the burning conviction that I have to do something to protect them began.
What's been your best tree-climbing experience to date?
When I first went to Indonesia, one of the species I fell in love with was the Sulawesi crested black macaque, or yaki, as it's locally known. Returning in 2014 after two years of planning, dreaming and honing my tree-climbing techniques, I was determined to fulfil my long-held ambition of photographing monkeys from a slightly different perspective than usual, by climbing 50 feet up a tree in Tangkoko Nature Reserve, North Sulawesi, to meet them at their own level.
After getting out of bed at 4 am, I trekked through the forest by the light of my head torch to make sure I didn't miss the monkeys before they moved on to forage elsewhere. I set up my gear, ascended a tree and sat there for a few hours, until a lone male came wandering past, foraging around the base of the tree for 20 minutes or so. He stayed on the ground, then climbed a tree far away before disappearing. Feeling pretty hungry and tired, I decided to call it a day. I descended, coiled my rope, packed up and started heading back, happy that it had worked, and that the morning had been enjoyable and relaxing. That was when the rest of the monkeys arrived. Pulling my phone from my pocket, I saw five messages from the researchers who follow the monkeys on a daily basis. 'On their way to you now', 'Getting close to you', 'I hope you're ready' Why didn't I check my phone before leaving the tree? I have never, in all my life, felt so stupid.
Some rustles in the undergrowth betrayed the monkeys' arrival. First throw: miss. Second: miss. Third, fourth, fifth, sixth: all miss. Again and again I threw the rope, going wide of the target every time. About to give up and watch my opportunity slide away, I managed to swallow my panic and finally made my mark. Click, click, heave, scramble, I hauled myself skywards, careful to stay on the correct line and climb safely, but using the adrenaline to make every move count. I'm not sure I've ever climbed so quickly. The monkeys were all around me by this time, picking through the leaves for morsels of food, still not fazed by their relatives unexpectedly coming to lunch.
The next hour was amazing. I was treated like a part of the furniture, another being going about his day in the canopy. Nobody tampered with my equipment, nobody showed any fear, no aggression. The experience taught me, beyond any doubt, that everyone has to see wildlife in its natural environment.
What about future plans? Have you got any exciting projects in the pipeline?
I'm going back to Indonesia, specifically Sumatra, in April this year. This time, it's to photograph other people learning to climb trees. Tony Darbyshire of Sawpod, along with a team of arborists, is going to train the staff of the Human Orangutan Conflict Response Unit in climbing trees so that they have an even greater skill set at their disposal when rescuing orangutans from patches of forest threatened by destruction. By getting to the same level as the team, I'll be able to show the lengths they go to to protect Critically Endangered Sumatran orangutans - the incredible hard work and dedication that goes into locating, darting, capturing and rehabilitating them for release into forests where they can live wild in safety. I'm also looking forward to showing off my Tentsile Connect and using it to protect myself from mosquitoes and position myself for long periods of time as I capture the action around me.
Finally, what advice do you have for anyone who wants to use photography, tree-climbing or both to effect change for the benefit of the environment?
If you want to climb trees, learn from the professionals - there are lots of great arborists who are also tree-lovers and will teach you how to be safe, adaptable and, above all, climb without damaging the trees in the process. Trees really are the most amazing places to sit - I can't urge you enough to get up there, whether you pitch a tent a few metres up or scale the highest heights. There are ever more tools at your disposal to help you get into the canopy and see things in a different way.
In terms of the photography itself, photograph what you love, what you know and what you care about - don't try and replicate other people's work, or you'll just get a diluted version of their pictures. If you truly care about something, you'll keep going back; keep wanting to get pictures that show the world how you see it so that they can start to care too.
A couple of weeks ago, we told you about our involvement with WeForest, who have planted over 7.5 million trees in 11 countries to date, making an incredibly important contribution to protecting the planet, biodiversity and human health. We know from personal experience that there are few things that foster a stronger connection with nature than planting tree saplings and watching them grow, so in the hope of inspiring a spirit of reforestation in our fantastic community of tree fans, we're sharing a tree planting story with you today.
On an August day in Kenya, suspended in the kind of heat that makes air feel like water, we stood next to the forest on a patch of naked green and contemplated the piles of soil at our feet. They sat crumbling, red-brown and defiantly cold against the day, and waited for us to get to work. We were in Kakamega, where rainforest that once marched confidently across the country now hangs on, holding its beautiful collection of animals and their echoing noises just out of reach of the world. The sun climbed the sky and people trickled towards us, a tide of bright fabric and shining spades, watering cans and mud-caked boots. The forest needed help, and they were here to give it.
We worked standing up at first, carefully rearranging the earth as the spades struggled to escape our sweaty hands. Then, as our t-shirts stuck to our backs and the water in our bottles turned warm and made us thirstier, we sank to our knees in the tough, thorny grass and dug in with our hands. We peeled the trees from their cylinders of plastic sacking and looked at their startling roots, a thin web of white through the compacted soil. As a universe of worms and centipedes broke free beneath our hands, we tucked the tiny trees into the ground and smoothed the earth around them, patting and moulding until they stood solid, a rainforest in training. Standing again, we wiped dirty hands on dusty trousers and stretched our backs as we shuffled on, picking around planted patches in search of crumbling red.
The bare earth got swallowed up and the rows of expectant saplings diminished as we spread them across the hillside, down to the river and back up again, working faster and harder as our hands figured out a rhythm and careful small talk became laughter and song. There were a thousand trees planted that day, a lot but not a lot, an important drop in an ever-growing ocean. As we trailed away, we left the sun behind us for the cool of the forest, wishing the new trees well as we walked through the shade of the old. Somewhere in the distance, colobus monkeys croaked, and the canopy rustled sharply above us as birds moved through the trees. This is what the day was for, and the stiffness in our backs became nothing as the forest painted its own importance all around us and lodged a care for it in our chests. We glanced over our shoulders for one last look at the tiny trees, and willed them all to grow.