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Bath @ work: Mike Stiff – Tree surgeon

Our series of photographic portraits by Neill Menneer shows Bath people at work

I went to college in Suffolk, far, far away from Bath, but in another beautiful county. As a child we used to go to the Lake District and for some strange reason I used to dream of being a park warden. I saw how they lived in this wonderful environment in tidy little cottages and drove around in the coolest cars imaginable. I’ve owned a spate of Land Rovers ever since.

My love of the countryside was in my blood as both my mum and grandmother were country people who passed on their knowledge to me. My grandmother, Alice Stiff, in particular loved to hunt for wren nests, smell the fox and suck nectar from dead nettles. In fact when she died she left a little money with which I bought my first tipper truck. It was the start of Admiral Tree Surgery.

The Otley college of agriculture taught me many things and most of all it gave me hands-on experience. In the first year I worked on Lord Henniker-Major’s estate and then did a work placement for two years with the Suffolk Wildlife Trust. I learnt many things from forestry to shepherding and also acted as mentor in their environmental education programme for disadvantaged kids. Some of whom had never ever seen real live sheep before; it was really fulfilling to open their eyes.

I then spent a long time up in Scotland working for Herpetofauna Consulting whose main service was to record and trap newts, snakes, lizards and toads. We found a large colony of Natterjack toads which resulted in a lot of local publicity as they are very rare. My girlfriend at the time then moved to Weston Super Mare and so I duly followed her and ended up living in Bristol.

Building on my tree surgery qualifications I did a number of specific courses around ropes, harnessing and aerial rescue. On visiting Bath however I was knocked out by the greenness of the city. So many trees! I remember walking up Solsbury Hill and thinking ‘this is where my future lies’. We lived in Larkhall for a while, opposite the Rose and Crown which Jerry Grey was running at the time. Great memories.

I got a job locally with Phil Shirley who ran Advanced Tree Services in Kilmersdon. Gradually I started to get more of my own work and remember bombing around Bath in a Mini with huge bags of logs, twigs and foliage strapped to the roof, like a giant snail.

A bit like a rolling stone I commuted between Falmouth and Bath for a while where on the way I coincidentally worked for Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts.

Now I’m settled in Bath and loving my work and life. I’m involved in a few new creative projects like bee keeping, planking seasoned logs in the workshop, turning wood and even providing tree climbing courses.

I love trees and often feel a passionate responsibility to protect and nurture them. My clients also have a close relationship with their trees and it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to say they often love them. This is surely healthy in a world increasingly obsessed and reliant on technology. We all need to be more sensitive to trees’ needs.

Visit: treesurgerybath.co.uk.

PORTRAIT: Neill Menneer at Spirit Photographic. Visit: capturethespirit.co.uk, tel: 01225 483151.