Thomas Brail is originally from the Tarn and is a nature lover. His job: to climb trees and take care of them. And when their survival is threatened, he doesn’t hesitate to undo his militant civilian hat. Even if this means nesting at the top of the branches and not coming down for several days in a row to avoid destroying them.
“Disappointed”. The term probably sounds like an understatement to describe the state of mind of Thomas Brail, a professional tree climber, who has received a lot of publicity since May for his militant actions in favor of saving trees. At the beginning of June, he even started a hunger strike to prevent the destruction of trees as part of the urban development project around the Eiffel Tower.
A smoothly executed action from the top of an ancient plane tree at the foot of the Eiffel Tower, at the end of which Thomas managed to secure an appointment with two government representatives. More specifically with the Minister of Ecological Transition Amélie de Montchalin and the Minister of Agriculture, Marc Fesneau to discuss the protection of trees at the national level.
Two weeks later, Monday 20 June, Thomas is back in Paris. This time he is joined by ten people: members of the National Tree Monitoring Group, an association he founded in 2019. But in the wake of the second round of the parliamentary elections, the political context is not in his favour. Thomas and his delegation are finally received by heads of cabinet of the Ministry of Ecological Transition, but without the presence of Amélie de Montchalin. And there is no representative of the Ministry of Agriculture present.
“Even though we obviously didn’t expect a miracle, we would have liked to have seen someone from agriculture. We tried to go to the Ministry to show that we had traveled from the other side of France, but we had clearly closed the doors.
From municipal gardener to tree climber
Thomas, a former municipal gardener and now a certified tree climber, is not his first media stunt. In 2019, he clings to a plane tree in Mazamet, a town in the Tarn where he comes from, for three days in a row. Nine centuries-old trees were in danger of being cut down.
“I went to the mayor, who I knew a little bit, to ask him why it was the intention to cut these trees. There was no logic to it for me: these plane trees did well. At the end of the meeting, I jokingly told the mayor that I hoped I didn’t have to cling to the trees to avoid destroying them. He assured me not. Knowing the expected date of the massacre, I continued to monitor the matter. A few days earlier I started hitting a wall: the mayor stopped answering my calls. Finally I heard that the slaughter had been brought forward ten days. That same morning, at 5 am, I climbed one of the trees and slept in the tree for three days. I had warned the media, so my action was passed on. The trees are still there.”
From this first civil and militant action arose a desire to actively protect the trees of his country. In the same year, he left for Paris to cling to trees near the Ministry of Ecological Transition. And a few months later, he founded the National Group of Trees, an association under the Act of 1901 intended (as the name suggests) to monitor and protect trees. “I put my finger in the gears and in the end I never stopped”he explains. “I distanced myself from my family for a while, I even got into financial trouble.”
“We don’t give up”
It must be said that the love for nature cultivated by Thomas is not new. In particular those for trees: “I grew up close to the forest. Child, I didn’t have many friends because I lived far from the city, with no transport. So I passed the time climbing the trees, I made up stories in the forest. I have benefited from a privileged connection with nature, which not all children can experience†
The man who founded his company “Cyprès de mon arbre” in 2012 has made diagnosis and fleet management his professional daily life. A fight he also leads, thinking of his four-and-a-half-year-old son Jules. “I refuse to leave my child, him and his whole generation, in the galley later on. He knows why I sometimes leave, why I climb trees, he knows the importance of forests.”
“I’ve been climbing trees since I was little, learning by cherry picking and then getting my professional tree climbing certification as an adult. In my opinion there is a symbolism that refers to childhood in climbing trees. It also refers to our origins, as well as a reflex of the reptilian brain that consists in taking refuge in the trees to protect itself from predators. It’s a bit like you’re the judge when you’re in a tree, you gain height.”
One of his battle horses and levers for action: enforcing and strengthening L353 of the Environmental Code, an article of law that prohibits felling of roadsides, ie trees placed in urban areas or along roadsides.
However, when Thomas realizes that he can’t be everywhere or spend his time hanging in the branches, he is pleased that more and more citizens across the country are getting involved. “Monitoring and mobilization networks for tree defense are developing almost everywhere in France”he notes.
Far from struggling, the activist plans to take revenge for his missed meeting with the ministers: “We’re not giving up! We were promised another appointment, we’ll do everything we can to get it. I’m like a little boy: from the moment you promise me something, you have to give it to me!”
(ETX Daily Up)