The team make their way around the big Aleppo pine in Arderne Gardens in Claremont. Picture: Explore the Ancient Trees of Africa

Cape Town - They are scaling some of South Africa’s tallest trees, battling with branches and taking cover in the canopies – all in the name of science.

As part of the Champion Tree Project, which was launched last year, an elite team of international and local climbers will be travelling across South Africa to help the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries measure and identify the country’s oldest and biggest trees.

More than 70 trees and groups of trees have been declared by the department as “Champion Trees”, based on criteria such as size, age and historical value.

Izak van der Merwe, a forestry scientist for the department and co-ordinator for the project, said the team had already been in the country since January 4.

He said the climbers would not only be helping to generate awareness of an important part of South Africa’s heritage – some of the trees are over 800 years old – but they would also be measuring the ancient timber.

“For trees over 40m, instruments are not able to reliably measure their height,” said Van der Merwe. “You need to physically measure them from the top down.”

Last weekend, the team was in Cape Town scaling groves in the Arderne Gardens. Leon Visser, who heads Tree Unlimited, a health-care initiative for South African trees, is part of the team tackling the country’s “tree safari”.

“There’s just something about being up there, where no one has been before, seeing the world from a completely new perspective,” said Visser.

The intrepid climber has been all over the world, clambering up some of the world’s tallest trees. He said every tree came with its own challenges, from smoother barker to sappy branches, making every climbing experience unique.

Trees are generally scaled by shooting a line of rope up into the high-lying branches using a device known as a “big shot”.

“Doing it this way is very safe,” said Visser. “But I prefer to climb the tree rather than just zipping straight up. I always look for an interesting route between the branches.”

Today the team, compromising members from the UK, Canada and New Zealand, will be in Knysna, scaling several 35m yellowwood trees.

By the time the tour concludes on January 27, the team will have travelled across the country and climbed famous trees such as the Sydney gum trees in Limpopo which at 81m are regarded as the tallest planted trees in the world. - Cape Argus