Trees… that’s what we’re all about… They are why our company exists.
Explains Tree Tents Design and Innovation director and founder Jason Thawley.
I designed the first Tree Tent out of a passion for trees and woodland. They were a pivotal part of my life – from exploring and playing in my local woodland as a child, discovering the rich habitat, difference in tree species, climbing and just feeling a sense of place within them. As I grew into adulthood they were always a place to go to unwind and ground myself again. In the woods you are no longer surfing time; you are deep inside time.
Following a career into engineering and product design I found myself in a world of mass production, plastics and producing products that took us further and further away from the simple and important things in life and further away from a great resource that woodlands and forests offer. Sustainable design was something I became passionate about – i tried to replace the standard plastic injection moldings we used in abundance with more eco-friendly recycled plastics and wood variants but was constantly faced with budget issues and ‘the market wont like this’ decisions from the money men, so I decided to start my own sustainable design practice.
What followed was the opportunity to explore the new plethora of sustainable manufacturing solutions and materials for companies and also the chance to design and produce some of my own products. UK woodlands were at the heart of this. Finding new ways to integrate timber products into modern, functional design to keep alive and incentivise good woodland management and use.
There is a commonly held misconception that woods are wild places that can look after themselves and so should be left alone to do that. It’s called Climax Vegetation’. A term meaning that a woodland or forest will find equilibrium where renewal and death are in perfect balance. Storms and fire create gaps so seeds can germinate and woods renewed. However this type of woodland needs to be vast to be truly independent and simply does not exist in Britian or many parts of Europe anymore due to fragmentation and agricultural clearance and use of the landscape. As such, plants and animals have adapted to actively managed woodlands so we can no longer leave them be if we wish them to continue to be diverse and healthy habitats.
There has been a tendency to leave woods alone because they are seen as non-economic or with no necessity to manage them as a timber supply. Private owners objectives and reasons for having and planting woodland rank highest within landscaping and conservation with production and profit low on the list and provision of public recreation even lower where landowners have had low expectations of financial return – especially with smaller woodlands where less diversification opportunities tend to be. Woodland management ensures that our woods are worked and cared for in a way that helps provide us and the environment with many benefits, while making sure they stay healthy and continue to thrive in the future. Thinning to help new species of trees and plants to grow will create a more bio-diverse habitat and can offer a permaculture environment to sustain local populations and visitors.
Thankfully things are starting to change; we’re starting to see new uses for our woods from agroforestry to recreations such as survival and foraging skills, mountain biking, treetop adventure parks, wildflower tours, fungal forays, glamping and even drone racing, and we hope that our products such as our Tree Tents can offer a great incentive and support for this change. Woods have a high carrying capacity in that they can absorb lots of people and activity but development should be sensitive so as not to destroy the wildlife values of the site especially in our oldest, ancient woodlands. Diversification and development should also be highly seen as an opportunity for enriching the sites – not just a profit making exercise.
When the concept of our Tree Tent structures first materialized the objectives were self supporting…. and not only in their suspended nature. We wanted to design a sustainable structure that utilised uk hardwoods and then a structure that offered a low impact, affordable and adaptable way of being able to stay in the woodlands to enjoy them, to use them as a medicine to modern life while at the same time bringing in an income for the owner to start or continue a healthy management routine. The design of the Tree Tent means it can be walked into the site, assembled and installed in only a few days meaning it can access harder to reach and in effect more beautiful locations with minimal disturbance to the ground flora and fauna. They can adapt to a variety of trees and locations so not having to be custom built to specific sites with the expense, permanence and inefficient manufacture that can arise from that. The ‘one size fits all’ solution means controlled, efficient and sustainable manufacture is possible and the suspended installation requires no foundations, ground clearance and is harmless to the trees.
Supporting infrastructure and services is a vital consideration and one that should also be highly sustainable. For a comfortable stay washing and toilet facilities are going to be needed and can be offered in a number of ways. Access to clean water is the first task with a few options. The easiest is a piped in water supply from a nearby source to make life and running the site as hassle free as possible so you can concentrate on the experience you’re offering. As such think about your site location and water sources. MDPE water supply pipe is relatively inexpensive and can be run long distances as long as your source is at higher ground. If that’s not possible then carried in supplies can be a solution though water management and use needs to be carefully considered. If you have the fortune of a lake, spring, stream or river running through then this can also be utilized. To make guests stay enjoyable you’ve got to create a simple but comfortable ‘off-grid’ experience. Hot showers can be nicely incorporated into the site, wood fired heating coils or calor gas heated shower units can be mixed with beautifully crafted wood enclosures and composting toilets can be supplied and designed in to be a pleasurable experience if thought out and done correctly and creatively. Surround your site with harmonious landscaping – paths, steps and furniture made from split logs from thinnings, felled and fallen timber, create fire pits for lounging around and start to plant more diverse trees and plants within the forest especially fruit and nut yielding varieties to serve as sustenance for your guests.
Power is next – our Tree Tents can be supplied with 12V battery supplies to run low energy LED lighting and power for small devices and exterior illumination also. These can be charged from solar panels, small scale wind turbines, water turbines if you have flowing water nearby and we’re also working on power generators that take energy from the movement of the structure itself within the trees.
Heating and cooking is best utilized from the best, local fuel source – wood! Efficient wood burners can be incorporated into our structures and simple charcoal barbecues can be worked into the site. Create a simple yet pleasurable environment where people can enjoy whats around them; so they don’t feel the need to reach for their technology or want for the modern world. The wood or forest should be able to offer them everything they really need to unwind and relax and safe in the knowledge that as they do they are also supporting the environment around them to thrive and flourish.