current forestry topics - Have Your Say

In each issue of Forest Machine Magazine we speak anonymously to people within the industry for their gripes on current forestry topics

It appears forestry contractors have lost a pound and found a penny. This should have been one of the most profitable eras in the history of timber harvesting and instead it has fallen flat on its face. Timber prices are so high that people are swapping sheets of plywood for Ferraris and luxury mansions, yet many contractors who actually cut the wood are still skint.

We have the minimum wage for workers and minimum pricing
for alcohol in Scotland, so who’s at fault for the low contract prices? We cannot blame Boris, Brexit or Covid for this as we have done it to ourselves. The landowners must be laughing their socks off getting work done for peanuts, their mattresses are getting higher and higher with all the cash stuffed under it while contractors are struggling to pay bills.

The most depressing part is that there is plenty of work for everyone; no one is sat at home looking for work, so why do we feel the need to undercut one another? There is absolutely no point in being a busy fool.
Unless we sort out these issues, we are producing a sustainable product in an unsustainable industry.

Firewood Sales

As if things weren’t bad enough new laws on the moisture content of firewood in England have just come into effect. Selling firewood had been a good side-line for contractors and a way to help with cash flow in difficult times, but the new rules in England have firmly shut that door.

Every Tom, Dick and Henrietta (need to be politically correct here) knows that putting wet wood in your wood burner creates tar in your chimney and just doesn’t burn well. People know they have to buy it in advance and stack it in their log store to season prior to burning.

The new rules mean that contractors now need a huge yard with covered areas (yet more money) or drying Kilns (body parts need to be sold to purchase and run these) to store and season firewood prior to sale.

To me, it feels like they are trying to prevent contractors from selling firewood. The landowners sitting in the House of Lords are most likely extremely peeved that contractors are profiting from a waste product. This will put many small independent firewood merchants out of business while large scale operations will flourish. This could have a knock on effect on

manufacturers and distributers involved in the sales, servicing and spare parts supply of firewood processors and log splitters.

I wouldn’t be surprised if the UK Government announces a War on Wet Wood task force, with specially trained mobile officers deployed throughout the UK with Infrared X-Ray cameras which can see through metal. These officers will be able to uncover firewood smugglers who are using vans and covered pick-ups to disguise their loads of unseasoned firewood. All officers would most likely be armed and fully trained to use sophisticated meters and will test the moisture content of every log!

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Training

The current state of forestry training is a serious problem that’s not going to go away and skirting around the issue just isn’t helping. What can the government do to help forestry, which is worth over £1 billion to the treasury each year and was deemed as an essential industry during Covid-19?

As it turns out, nothing at all; the politicians sit and watch as Askham Bryan College closes down and sells off Newton Rigg, one of the very few training facilities for forestry that we have. Genius!

Politicians and so-called forestry experts bleat on about the importance of training and come up with unworkable ideas that do sod all to help. Every so often they use the wonderful phrase “Pilot Scheme”, which is supposedly the answer to all our prayers. Typically, tens of thousands of pounds of hard-earned taxpayer’s money is thrown at a scheme which is useless, pointless, and does nothing to help.

The government can find up to £625 a week each for millions of people to be sat at home and watch Netflix while on furlough but can’t spare a ha’penny for training essential workers for forestry.

Tree Shear Legislation

I do agree that training courses are needed to acquaint operators with the risks and limitations of using their equipment. It is equally important to know how to maintain equipment properly and where and what to look for regarding wear.

The days of just buying equipment and heading to the forest to make a living have long gone, but training courses have to be affordable and run by someone who has practical experience with the equipment.

Tree shears on excavators, forwarders, harvester bases, lorry cranes, and telescopic loaders are fantastic for dealing with dead, diseased, and brittle trees. They can save chainsaw operators’ lives and protect them from falling debris. Tree

shears do not replace chainsaw operators; although they do fell the tree, the wood still has to be de-limbed and cross-cut with chainsaws. The increase in production justifies the extra cost.

Forests are managed by foresters or estate managers and these guys are responsible for the work being carried out. I’m sure if they saw an operator with a Stetson and two six-shooters around his waist operating an open cab mini digger with a 20-tonne tree shear hooked onto the jib, he would be run out of town pretty damn quick.

The use of tree shears has to be a workable solution as, besides the risk factor, there just aren’t enough chainsaw operators around to do the work. Just an idea, but manufacturers could train their re-sellers who, in turn, could offer customer training and certification on the new and used equipment they sell. These opportunities could then be incorporated into the selling price. This would allow the equipment and operator to meet the criteria and laws of the country in which it is sold and working.

Anon – The views, thoughts or opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent those of Forest Machine Magazine.


If you would like to have your say on topics affecting the forest industry then please write to Forest Machine Magazine, 33 Holm Gardens, Bellshill, ML4 2PB or email forestmachinemagazine@mail.com

Forest Machine Magazine is written and edited by a forest professional with over 40 years hands on experience. We are dedicated to keeping you informed with all the latest news, views and reviews from our industry.

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