With COVID-19 meaning there will be no APF this year, what better time for a trip down memory lane to revisit APFs past? Forestry Journal raided the archive for a selection of pictures from 40 years of the APF, assisted by the first exhibition director Roger Fitter, who here shares a few recollections.

THE Association of Professional Foresters started life in 1960 as an alternative to the Institute of Foresters, which at that time consisted mainly of the Forestry Commission hierarchy and was felt by those in the private sector not to be looking after their interests. It was initially made up of companies such as the Woodland Management Association, Wealden Woodlands, Tilhill, Oakover, Fountain Forestry and Forest Thinnings and individual members who were estate foresters, forestry contractors and managers from the management companies who wanted to have a voice of their own. The APF council was made up of a number of representatives from the management companies with an equal number of individual members together with the secretary and treasurer.

The association held an annual conference during which it was suggested another tier of membership should be created – trade company members – to represent the suppliers of goods and equipment to the industry. A heated debate followed, with some worrying they would quickly take over if allowed in. After a very close vote, the new category of membership was created, having the same number of council positions as the other two categories.

The following year, after a council meeting in London, secretary Tony Phillips and individual council member John McHardy, head forester at Longleat, travelled home together by train and discussed this new element, reasoning that as we had them as bedfellows it would be good to get them all together to show us what they had to offer. John said he would ask His Lordship if we could lay on some sort of event in the woods at Longleat.

And so, the National Forest Machinery Demonstration was born.

It was all new to the small group of us who made up the planning committee. We inspected the site and decided what could be done where and how it would all fit together. Trade company members were told we were offering them a chance to show off their wares. John McHardy met those interested and agreed the site they would have for their stand. 76 exhibitors were finally booked in and plans for infrastructure took shape.

It was decided the secretary’s site office would be the treasurer’s caravan (to the dismay of his wife), which was to be towed into the middle of the wood. Telephone contact with the outside world was a smart red public telephone box, again positioned in the middle of the wood. Communication between members of the demo team was provided by members of the junior leaders from the nearby army camp, accompanying our staff wearing large backpack radios with eight-foot aerials. I still recall seeing these heavily laden teenagers trying to keep up with athletic young foresters over uneven ground with thick undergrowth. Good training for them and the system worked. They were able to reach and assist an elderly gentleman who had fallen over long before the St John’s Ambulance people could get to him.

On this occasion and for all the following demos up until 2002, the demo team lived on site in caravans. At Longleat these were situated in the estate’s fencing yard.  After very heavy rain on the first night we stepped out into a mixture of water and creosote three inches deep. The rain kept up for much of the event, making the extraction of the Treasurer’s caravan and the telephone box an interesting operation.

Forestry Journal: Programmes for the first event, in 1976, cost 50p, which covered the entrance fee and included a 50p voucher for reduced entry into the safari park and a price list for Longleat Fencing.Programmes for the first event, in 1976, cost 50p, which covered the entrance fee and included a 50p voucher for reduced entry into the safari park and a price list for Longleat Fencing.

1978: Following the success of the first event two years earlier, the Earl of Lonsdale (APF president at that time) offered his Lowther Estate near Penrith as a venue.

The site was divided in two by the River Lowther, with woodland to the north for the working exhibits and a rather pleasant lawn area on the southern side for the static site.

The National Westminster Bank brought its mobile unit to the site to provide money handling facilities. They also provided some very good gin and tonics to those in the know. Unfortunately, due to some heavy rain on the last day, when the unit was towed off site at the end of the show, it left two deep grooves across the lawn.

We were never asked back.

1980: A questionnaire to the exhibitors showed they thought the event worth attending and biennial was their preferred frequency.

The FC offered its Christchurch campsite in the Forest of Dean, which meant the team had hot and cold running water and showers at its disposal.

The event was opened by the Duke of Gloucester and during the subsequent official lunch for him and various local dignitaries, the tent in which we were eating, which was enjoying its first outing after being in store for several months, hatched out thousands of tiny spiders which descended on silken threads to the heads and food of those gathered below.

1982: Following pressure from a number of the larger northern-based trade company members, the show moved north into Scotland (just) where we were told all the proper forestry took place.

On inspection, the site in Beecraiges Country Park was assessed as dry and on solid rock. The rain proved this to be wrong. Between each rock outcrop was an area which turned into a bog and, during the event, we had a small stream running through the centre of the refreshment tent. Not the sort of running water we really wanted.

Talking of bogs, we had identified a very wet area in the middle of the car park, so had sensibly taped it off with red and white barrier tape. Consider our delight when a high-ranking officer of the Health and Safety Executive proceeded to drive his car through the tape and into the bog.

1984: The next event saw us back down south, on the Crown Estate at Windsor. This we hoped would increase the visitor numbers, being close to London, where some of the big forestry investment companies had their offices. However, several of the northern-based equipment companies decided we had gone too far south and didn’t attend. Those that did reported they had done a lot of business despite a disappointing number of visitors.

On this occasion we hired a radio system for the first time. It worked well except for the fact that the wavelength we had been allocated coincided with a radio held by the foreman on a nearby building site, who was having trouble with the operator of a tower crane.

1986: It was decided, in an effort to please both exhibitors and visitors, to try our luck in the Midlands, where we found a suitable site at Clumber Park, using adjoining land owned by the National Trust and the Forestry Commission.

The security team hired to patrol the site at night proved to be frightened of the dark and unlit woodlands, so were sacked on the first morning, their duties being taken on by members of the demo team.

I also remember one of our car park attendants somehow parked a visitor’s car in such a position that we had to cut a tree down before he could get out.

Forestry Journal: 1988.1988.

1988: An APF member worked for Staffordshire County Council and offered us the old RAF Hednesford site on Cannock Chase, a site well served with existing tarmac roads, once tramped by square-bashing national servicemen and regular recruits. The site adjoined an area of FC woodland, which was readily offered as its contribution to the show.

Car parking was on the old parade ground which had been grassed over rather than the original hard surface, which due to the heavy rain that fell during set-up became quite boggy in places.

READ MORE: Forestry Journal brings you the #APFThatNeverWas

1990: Exhibitor questionnaires and visitor numbers showed the Midlands was a good choice for the show so, staying in the same county, the next event was held at the FC’s  Swynnerton Forest, with some of the adjoining fields belonging to Lord Stafford’s Old Park Estate.

We were somewhat taken aback to discover the area of woodland intended to be the working area for harvesters had been included in an auction and sold to a local contractor. After some negotiation we were able to purchase the contract from him and, after the show, thinned the remainder of the area at a profit.

Forestry Journal: 1992 Dalby Forest – our wettest site, where mud flowed like lava.1992 Dalby Forest – our wettest site, where mud flowed like lava.

1992: It was decided to go north again and a number of possible sites were looked at in the FC’s Dalby Forest. The one chosen incorporated a large flat field, which the FC’s farm tenant assured us was the driest area on the farm and would be ideal for car parking and our static site. There was also a large flat open area which had been a stone quarry. All this was adjacent to a well-roaded area of forest due for thinning.

To make the site fees more affordable for the smaller exhibitors in the static area, a length of covered shedding was constructed, comprising a roof and back wall only, alleviating the need for each one to hire their own tent.

During set-up it started raining and then blew a mini gale. Half the shedding line blew down, the awning over the entrance to the APF tent filled with water and threatened to tear in half, and small lakes appeared within the static and car park areas. Digging drainage holes revealed about twelve inches of top soil over solid rock (hence the nearby quarry).

It continued raining on the opening day and the only people that were really happy were the exhibitors who had wellington boots among their stock, as they were all sold out within the first hour.

A large part of the quarry became flooded, marooning one exhibitor on an island, and the liquid mud flowed like lava down the track into the forest.

It was the first occasion that we had to tow visitors off the car park, but it is probably the best-remembered demo of all time.

1994: In the hopes of finding somewhere drier and remembering the success of Clumber Park, we obtained permission from the Pierrepont Settlement to use an area of the Thoresby Estate.

As far as can be recalled, nothing untoward happened during the event and the sun shone most of the time.

Forestry Journal: 1996. Testing out possible coordinator transport.1996. Testing out possible coordinator transport.

1996: As the event grew, suitable sites became more difficult to find, so we were delighted to be offered the use of an area in Weston Park. They were well used to staging big events, many of which were far larger than ours. At the end of our stay, we were complemented by their events manager for being one of the most professional and best organised teams he had dealt with, leaving him virtually nothing to do.

A disused quarry on the edge if the static area gave an ideal site for a four-wheel drive test track, which was well used by some of the exhibitors.

The sun shone to such an extent that we had to water the tracks to lay the dust.

1998: After so many years in the Midlands, when we were offered a site on the Zetland Estate in North Yorkshire, owned by Lord Zetland, it was thought to be a good idea to move the event further north.

This was the first site where we had to undertake any major road building, as we had to metal a considerable length of farm track to gain access to the car park area.

The main route to the site was via the A6108 from Scotch Corner down into the town of Richmond, with a right-hand turn at a set of traffic lights. This we foresaw as a possible problem and suggested to the local police that the lights might need re-phasing.

They assured us that it would not be a problem… but it was.

2000: The start of the new century saw a return to Weston Park. Whereas on our first visit we had to water the roads to keep the dust down, this event proved to be a wet one. By the time it was all over it looked as if we had held a ploughing match rather than a forest machinery exhibition.

The estate was not very happy. We assured them that it was nothing that a good tine harrowing followed by a heavy roller wouldn’t put right in a week or two, but they insisted on re-seeding much of the area.

One moment of excitement was the landing of the air ambulance to take one of the caterer’s staff to hospital after she scalded her arm. Luckily she was not seriously hurt.

Forestry Journal: Timberjack at the APF in 2002.Timberjack at the APF in 2002.

2002: It was decided that we should go north again and incorporate some arena events.

We inspected a site in Birkshaw Forest near Lockerbie that looked ideal, with a gentle valley which could accommodate the arenas with tiered viewing. The adjoining a forest offered large areas of thinning and clearfell for the demonstration circuit.

Then came the outbreak of Foot and Mouth. A large area of forest was cleared to provide a burial ground for the slaughtered carcases and for some time it was in doubt if we would be able to use the site. Restrictions were lifted and we were given the go-ahead, but about 100 m on one side of the viewing circuit, which should have contained working demonstrations, remained fenced off.

The exhibition was opened by the Princess Royal, who then toured much of the show. The arena events proved to be a great success, as did the guided trips for school parties, another first for the demo.

Forestry Journal: The APF in 2002 was opened by the Princes Royal, who stayed to tour much of the show.The APF in 2002 was opened by the Princes Royal, who stayed to tour much of the show.

2004: Returning to the Midlands, we were offered several suitable sites on Lord Hertford’s Ragley Estate. We chose one on the northern edge of the estate, with excellent access from the public road and plenty of open fields for car parking and the static area.

An increased number of school parties visited the show; we hoped that, if we started early enough, eventually the general public might begin to understand what forestry is all about.

Forestry Journal: Jim Mair brought Tigercat to the APF in 2006.Jim Mair brought Tigercat to the APF in 2006.

2006: For the second time in its history the demo returned to a site, in this case the Ragley Estate, utilising the road put in two years previously.

There were major changes to the layout, with the old static area becoming the car park and a new field area allowing for an extended demonstration circuit and static area, together with the arenas.

Forestry Journal: 2008. The parade ground.2008. The parade ground.

2008: Back to Cannock for the first time since 1988, with the same static and demonstration areas, but a new and far bigger car park area. This time the staff were in the comfort of a hotel in Stafford at night.

Forestry Journal: 2010. The show returned to Cannock.2010. The show returned to Cannock.

2010: Back to Cannock for the third time. Same site, same car park but a different hotel. The weather not good, which caused the car parking to become “difficult”.

Forestry Journal: 2012. Logset brought its new GT harvester, the 8H GT, to the show.2012. Logset brought its new GT harvester, the 8H GT, to the show.

2012: Back to Ragley for the third time, but on a brand-new site, with a larger parking area which was filled to capacity.

Forestry Journal: 2014. It was a good show for machinery distributor Oakleaf Forestry.2014. It was a good show for machinery distributor Oakleaf Forestry.

2014: The 20th APF established Ragley as its ongoing home, with a deluge of requests from exhibitors asking that it be immediately rebooked for 2016. It attracted its largest number of visitors yet with 16,500 people through the gate.

2016: Tragedy hit a couple of days before the show, when long-serving demo team member Frank Sheridan was killed in an accident on site, doing the job he had helped us with since 1982. His wife Aileen returned to the site the next day, insisting that ‘the show must go on’, and the subsequent event proved a fitting tribute to Frank, who is still much missed.

Forestry Journal: 2018.2018.

2018: Once again, the weather and traffic brought the most strife to an otherwise successful event. In fact, the opening Thursday was the busiest first day in the demo’s history!

Forestry Journal: Working with and on behalf of the APF2020, Forestry Journal has produced the next best thing to the live event itself; the #APFthatneverwas catalogue – jam-packed with every company that would have been exhibiting this year, the goods and services they are currently promoting and the best way to get in touch with them.Working with and on behalf of the APF2020, Forestry Journal has produced the next best thing to the live event itself; the #APFthatneverwas catalogue – jam-packed with every company that would have been exhibiting this year, the goods and services they are currently promoting and the best way to get in touch with them.

2020: Finally, a challenge the demo team could not overcome. The global COVID-19 pandemic forced the event’s postponement. However, exhibitors were celebrated in the special #APFthatneverwas showcase, and we have every intention of seeing you back at the Ragley Estate on 23–25 September next year for APF 2021!

To request your free copy, please click here.

Access the digital edition here.

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