A.M Tree Surgeons has been turning heads with its new custom-built vehicle, designed to safely section fell trees with remote control. essentialARB spoke to Alistair Magee about the project’s inception and development.

NOBODY likes to hear that something can’t be done. But for Alistair Magee of A.M Professional Tree Surgeons, it’s like waving a red rag to a bull.

Alistair was 23 years old when he launched his own business, A.M Professional Tree Surgeons, in Winkfield, Windsor, in 2005. It has grown gradually, increasing in profitability with every year but remaining a small business with a focus on trade contracting and one of Alistair’s key strengths – tree climbing.

He said: “I have an attitude towards working with trees which goes something like: just because someone else struggles or can’t do it, that doesn’t mean I can’t get it done. It sounds very cheesy, but I’ve never failed to find a solution to a problem and make what I have work for me.

“From the moment I started working with trees back in 1999, my so-called peers began telling me I was too young, it would never work out or what I was trying to do would fail. Growing up in foster care, my life was always governed by other people’s opinions about what I could and couldn’t do and I hate that attitude. It really pisses me off to hear someone tell me I cannot try to do something, just because they think so.

“My brain is hardwired to make it work and achieve what I want to do, even to the point of failure. Sometimes it’s gone wrong for me and I really get depressed and dislike myself for a long time. I’ve used these failures to motivate myself and try to work smarter. I don’t pretend to be the best. I just love my job and the sense of achievement and self-worth tree work gives me.”

In the years since starting his company, Alistair has worked continuously, with little long-term planning, but trying to keep ahead of competitors by investing in small machines that others overlooked because they could not see the cost-to-benefit ratio.

Forestry Journal: Testing the crane at full extension.Testing the crane at full extension.

He said: “I now see most companies doing what I was doing over 10 years ago. It sounds big-headed, but it’s satisfying to see that what I did was right. I think you have to follow your gut feeling, even if it’s scary.”

The idea for the truck was sparked in 2007, while Alistair was living and working in Sweden. He saw a grapple saw working on a vehicle used to cut and stack trees into a lorry.

He said: “The owner, Henrik Lundvall, kept his cards very close to his chest and still does to this day. At the time, the way he worked was decades ahead of anyone else out there and it got me thinking of more efficient ways to do tree work.”

Forestry Journal: The truck weighs 27 tonnes and is supplied with track mats to reduce impact.The truck weighs 27 tonnes and is supplied with track mats to reduce impact.

Three years ago, Alistair was working flat out doing jobs for other firms, his body was hurting and he was becoming frustrated with the dangers he was facing on the trees he was assigned.

“I had addressed my concerns many times with them, but it still kept happening that I would turn up to work with my crew on a contracting job and find a tree that was so poorly planned I was in fear for my life. It was like all they cared about was their profits,” he said.

“I finally snapped. I wanted to force them to make a change, so I went and bought a 25 m remote-control tracked cherry picker and started using it. The response was great. Soon I was working seven days a week pruning and felling trees and my body wasn’t hurting any more.

“As my business grew, my customers began to see that I had demonstrated the value of a high-price machine, showing it can turn a quick profit. So they started buying the same machines and stopped using me.

“It quickly became apparent that while I have some brilliant, loyal customers who will always use me, if I waited too long without making a big change, I wouldn’t have a customer base any longer. So I made the truck happen.”

Forestry Journal: Felling dangerous ash trees in Coventry.Felling dangerous ash trees in Coventry.

While gathering quotes for the construction of a custom-built truck that could handle the kind of jobs he had in mind, Alistair also looked at other machines that were already on the market.

“The reason I did a full circle back to the truck and crane was because most of the other vehicles raised more questions than answers,” he said. “There were lots of grey areas regarding insurance and driving regulations. Most manufacturers produce lifting machines for construction use, lifting static loads, not a dynamic falling load like trees.

“Every company I spoke to said they would invalidate my warranty if I used it for felling trees. Which is why you don’t see many new machines out there doing tree work. I simply couldn’t take the risk of investing so much money into a new piece of equipment which is in principle not legal for my purposes. In this industry, we all see people and tree companies doing work they shouldn’t be doing in a way or with a piece of machinery not fit for purpose, but I’m not comfortable with that.

“My customers put a level of trust in me to get their jobs done and completed to a professional standard. My actions can and do reflect on them and how they represent themselves. I want to do my job to the best of my ability, so my new Volvo truck and big Fassi crane with remote control and saw-cutting grab was the only solution for me.”

Forestry Journal: Construction and testing was carried out by Mac’s Trucks in Huddersfield.Construction and testing was carried out by Mac’s Trucks in Huddersfield.

A.M Professional Tree Surgeons’ new truck was constructed and tested by professional truck builder Mac’s Trucks in Huddersfield, a long-established company which builds and sells over 650 trucks a year.

Alistair explained: “Its full reach is 35 m straight up and 31 m side reach in any direction when it’s fully outrigged. It can lift and hold sections of trees up to 850 kg including the weight of the saw head.

“Its footprint is 9.5 m long, 2.4 m wide and 4.2 m tall. Its outriggers, when fully deployed, are 8 m wide on both sides including the width of the truck crane. The truck can still be short-rigged to give maximum capacity on one side if, for example, it’s working on the single lane of a road.

“The truck’s capabilities are over-engineered and tested to allow it to perform at its best in what I expect will be many difficult and awkward situations. The crane’s ability will depend on the site conditions and how much work area we have to site the truck’s stabilisers.

“It weighs 27 tonnes and is supplied with track mats to be used if it’s on soft ground or to protect customers’ property.”

Forestry Journal: The truck has been designed to provide 30 m reach in any direction, with a full reach of 35 m straight up.The truck has been designed to provide 30 m reach in any direction, with a full reach of 35 m straight up.

Among its key strengths:

It is fully legal for self-transportation to site, reducing costs to customers on haulage. It also has a fully kitted out sleeper cab for the operator so they can stay on site, reduce time lost on travel and save costs when staying away from base.

The truck and crane set-up have been fully designed and built for their single intended use: felling trees. It’s not a piece of equipment bought second-hand and modified for tree work without a full understanding of its ability and safe workload limits. This truck has been built in full with a manufacturing type approval for its intended use.

Able to safely reach up into the canopy of almost any tree, it reduces the risk to people and property by cutting, holding and manoeuvring tree sections to the ground in one methodical action, while the operator stands at a safe distance.

It is operated by experienced and insured operators, qualified to undertake the full aerial task of mechanical tree works.

Forestry Journal: A weight of 850 kg can be lifted at full reach. Closer in, up to 20 tonnes can be lifted.A weight of 850 kg can be lifted at full reach. Closer in, up to 20 tonnes can be lifted.

“It’s a one-off truck and there isn’t another like it anywhere,” said Alistair. “The complete process has gone from an idea in principle to an actual working machine via painstaking development in a factory.

“The truck has had many items added to it over the past eight months to make it more compliant, including a full recording camera system to protect its driver from mishaps on the road along with cameras fitted to the end of the crane so we can see what we’re cutting. The whole truck has been fitted with work lights so we can continue operating in the dark.”

And the cost? As one would expect for a custom job of this nature, it’s far from cheap, with the final project coming in over-budget at just under £350,000 plus VAT. For Alistair, it’s an acceptable expense.

“I knew it would be expensive, but it’s just something I had to do once I made my mind up,” he said.

“As with any other situation in my line of work, the biggest problem I’ve faced with this project has been the unknown. But it’s simply a case of trying to get hold of the right information and doing your research. So many people are afraid to get it wrong, but I’ve never understood that way of thinking. How do you learn to appreciate success if you don’t mess up from time to time?

“I have to say that throughout the project, the guys at Mac’s Trucks have been absolutely fantastic. They’ve been incredibly helpful and professional and I can’t recommend them highly enough.

“My whole motivation towards making this happen has been founded on 20-plus years in the arb industry and the calculated yet often dangerous approach we have when felling trees. In essence it’s a guessing game. With this truck and crane I hope to increase profitability for my customers, but also to reduce the risk for myself, my employees and, in time, the wider industry.

“After all, why climb a tree when you can use a truck?”


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