LJX Ltd Tree Services, based in Langbank, Renfrewshire, has been investing in new equipment to help fulfil the requirements of a number of contracts it has with Scottish local authorities and highways departments.

Recently, essentialARB reported on its purchase of a third Fuso Canter from Euro Commercials in South Wales and, just before Easter, we visited its headquarters to hear more about the business and plans for the future.

Daniel Kerr and his business partner Stephen Smith are the driving force behind the company, supported on the office side by Dan’s wife Maria. Dan was very enthusiastic about the Canter trucks and explained that he was happy with Euro Commercial and its ability to supply the trucks at very short notice. 

“Mitsubishi are the best for weight carrying, they have stronger springs, allowing more weight to be carried,” he said. “More payloads are vital in arb work and with these trucks being new we are reducing our repair bills.

“The Cantor trucks come complete with tipping bodies and high sides which make them ideal for arboricultural work. There is ample room on the trucks to incorporate lockable toolboxes. The cabs also contain three seats, which allows a full team to be transported to and from jobs. These facts mean that they are ready to go and do not need specific modifications to be able to do the jobs required. They are also able to work in relatively tight areas because of their overall narrow footprint.”

LJX Ltd Tree Services now has two 3.5-tonne Canter 3C13 vehicles and a 7.5-tonne Canter 7C15 resplendent with the company’s distinctive green branding of large LJX lettering with ‘Tree Services’ beneath. The simple wording is designed to let people know exactly what the company does. With the increasing number of tree surgeon companies, Dan feels this is really important.

Dan has been in tree surgery since the 1980s, working across the south of England. He then worked in France, after which he returned to London, where he met Maria, and eventually returned to Scotland. Steve, meanwhile, was a farmer by profession, working on his father’s farm in Langbank before joining Dan in setting up a tree surgery business. The pair have been doing this since the early 2000s and, like others, have experienced their ups and downs during this period.

The company operates from Langbank, as well as other bases in Glasgow and Edinburgh, and prides itself on being able to carry out tree work across the length and breadth of the country. They demonstrated this fact by carrying out work in Stornoway on the Isle of Lewis. This involved the ground cover clearance of Rhododendron bushes and the removal of around 20 dead, dangerous and diseased (DDD) trees, with a big logistical exercise required to get the necessary machinery on and off Lewis.

“All of the equipment we took across had to be securely tied down and anchored for the ferry crossing,” said Dan.

“Our first attempt to get there was postponed because of the weather and it was only after a second go that we made it there. Coming back, we had to contend with Storm Gareth. Having such a wide array of equipment and because the job was at Castle Lews, which is such an iconic location, we attracted quite a fan club of people who wanted to see what we were doing.”

For this job, LJX Tree Services was able to make use of quite a bit of kit. This included its Fendt 936 tractor, AHWI FM700 forestry mulcher, Först XR8 tracked chipper and one of its 3.5-tonne Canter 3C13 vehicles. It also involved six of the team removing the trees, doing the scrub clearance work and the coppicing work. 

“One of the team on Stornoway was ‘Our Suzi’,” said Dan. “Suzi was working as a sub-contractor for several local tree companies when we first came across her. After several months of this kind of ad hoc work pattern, Suzi decided that her path was better suited to working with LJX Tree Services on a full-time basis. We were delighted, as she is well liked throughout all the teams and a great worker. We rewarded this dedication to the company by spending the time and effort in coaching Suzi and she is now a serious climber and valued member of staff.”

For Dan, a lot of his time is taken up visiting sites and pricing jobs, both domestic and commercial. Having bases on both the east and west coast of Scotland helps with this process. “It is about breaking a job down into a number of simple steps,” he said. “Then it is about following the steps, for example one to five, in my mind and you don’t miss out three to get the job done quicker. Do what you said you would to the customer, do the little things well, and leave the customer satisfied.”

Working on the motorways of Scotland and streets of its major towns is very much part of the day-to-day workload of LJX Tree Services. Dealing, certainly on the main highways and truck routes, with the DDDs is part and parcel of what they do. 

Dan said: “DDDs are treated quite differently to your common or garden tree works due to their severity, numbers of people and property that can be affected, and the response times required to make safe the aforementioned.”

The various agencies or local authorities identify the works to be carried out, which can include clearing fence lines or verges and ensuring signs and road furniture are kept clear of overhanging branches. A recent example of such a job was at junction 3 on the M8 at Deer Park, Livingston, removing a plantation of larch trees infected with Phytophthora ramorum. These trees had to be felled and chipped on site with strict protocols for entering and leaving to stop the disease being spread elsewhere.

This job saw the Pezzolato PTH 770/660 biomass chipper being used and Stephen is full of praise for this machine. He said: “This chipper produces high quality G30- and G50-grade wood chips and we find it really good for dealing with hardwoods. It allows us to produce wood fuel chip, but we also hire the machine out with a fully trained operator to allow us to maximise our investment. We also have a Bandit 12XP Intimidator chipper and both are great for doing site clearance jobs.” 

One of the requirements when doing this work is to provide the teams at the roadside with toilet facilities and a place to take their breaks. For LJX Tree Services workers, this is provided in the form of a VW Crafter 7-seater ‘welfare unit’. This van has a toilet, shower, seating and cooking facilities to allow rest breaks to be taken both safely and in a comfortable setting.

This unit can also be used on city or town jobs as well and certainly creates interest when it is on site. People in these areas are not used to seeing big machines on their streets dealing with trees. Dan said that on a job for Renfrewshire Council, many thought that they were witnessing a number of forestry workers having taken a wrong turn when they saw tractors, chippers and a skid steer turn up on a leafy street that had been closed off to traffic.

“We needed to use a lot of our big machines on this job which was to deal with the removal of a number of trees that had roots breaking out through the pavements, causing a trip hazard,” he said. “The tree count was 43 mixed hardwood trees to be removed and 49 to be pruned, with the added complication of four trees with birds’ nests in them. We employed two tractors, our Först XR8 Traxion chipper as well as the Takeuchi TL150 skid steer.”

The skid steer proved useful, as the team was faced with a parked car stopping the felling of a tree. With the owner away on holiday and the tree needing to be removed, they had to come up with a safe but perhaps unusual solution to this tricky problem. “We used the skid steer to support the tree on one side, while having it anchored to one of our Valmet T180 tractors – allowing it to be cut and felled away from the car.”

LJX Tree Services has worked at Dalry in Ayrshire on an extension to the A737 bypass. Dan said: “We were asked to fell DDDs adjacent to the road to allow road builders to extend a much-needed bypass around a small, rural village. We utilised our Pezzolato PTH 770/660 biomass chipper, Valmet T180 and Botex timber grab, Fendt 936 with AHWI FM700 forestry mulcher and Takeuchi TL150 skid steer with timber grab in order to speed up the process. Works were completed well within the timescale allowed.” 

Husqvarna and Stihl saws are used by LJX, but for Dan, Stihl saws have always been the traditional saw of choice because of their better “torque capability” to deal with cuts and with Husqvarna needing to be “razor sharp” to do the job. 

“That said, both companies’ new saws are, in our experience, not as good as their older models. They are designed to be lighter and we find them less robust with the breaking of casings happening on a regular basis,” he said.

One of Dan’s favourite saws is nearly a decade old, still going strong and not causing him to keep replacing casings, it is “still doing the jobs it was meant to do”.

The range of Stihl saws that LJX Tree Services operate include MS201, MS361 and MS661. “They have great power to weight ratio, but on a negative their electronic tuning is a pain,” said Dan.

Health and safety is critical in many workplaces but, certainly, it is vitally important in tree management. Working, as LJX Tree Services does, alongside many busy roads and highways, the preparation of proper method statements is both vital and a requirement of gaining such work.

Dan said: “The training of our workforce is vital to equip them to be able to do the work. You can’t cut corners on this. People can die if they operate machinery and tools that they have not been properly trained to use. That said, gaining tickets and certificates to say training has been completed is one thing, but this needs to go hand in hand with the practical experience of operating them on jobs as well. There is no substitute for doing this, in our experience.”

Alongside training is the need to ensure that the machinery is fit for purpose as well as allowing the business to deliver the services that customers are looking for. With increasing demand from the commercial and domestic customers, the need to buy both a large and small stump grinder became apparent. A tracked Vermeer SC50TX and a wheeled Predator 460SW were the chosen machines. 

Stephen pointed out that another piece of kit used to meet customer demand is the Bomford Hawk Evo 6.0 VAF flail, which is used for scrub and hedgerow management. “With this it is possible to clean cut hedges and small trees both top and side as well as clearing ground scrub,” he said. “It has a forward arm with an over five-metre reach, which allows it to be used on a variety of different jobs. In fact, we used this machine on a job at an IKEA store at Braehead in Glasgow. It has been a great asset to the company.”

Looking to the future, it is likely that LJX Ltd Tree Services will continue to develop the commercial side of its business. Having invested in the kit to carry out highway works and site clearances – and with 80% of jobs currently on the commercial side – this is where they are looking to go. They confirmed that working on the rail and power lines and minor civil works are areas they want to move into but they still want to keep working on domestic jobs, as these will always be close to their hearts.

Dan explained that part of the company’s future-proofing has been the development of a very professional-looking website (ljxtreesurgeons.com) that highlights the services on offer to customers. 

“The website has been worth its investment,” he said. “It allows customers, both commercial and private, to see that we have a presence in different parts of the country and the kit to be able to do a wide array of jobs. People searching it are also able to see testimonials from customers of ours about the work we have carried out.”

LJX Ltd Tree Services has a clear plan for the future. The purchase of the Canter trucks demonstrates it is prepared to invest in equipment to be able to do the jobs required by its customers. 

Dan said: “I can see us using these and the rest of our kit to allow us to move into other areas of the country and to be able to expand our business more. One day, who is to say we can’t move across the border into England?”