In our May 2020 issue, James Hendrie reported on how forestry workers across multiple areas were adjusting to the impact of COVID-19, before checking back in, six months on. Now, with the darkest days of the pandemic hopefully behind us, he caught up with them again to see how things are looking a full year later.

IT’S hard to contemplate that it is now over a year since COVID-19 became a word that was to engender all sorts of emotions in people and to cause a major impact on the way that we were to live, work and socialise (or indeed, not socialise).

As we enter early summer, there are growing signs that, with increased vaccinations, perhaps an air of normality is about to return to the country. Lockdown restrictions are easing and life is starting to return to what many are calling a ‘new normal’. Time once more then to seek out the views of the forestry sector on the year that will be remembered for the pandemic.


Forestry Journal: Prosser Timber Contractors has continued to cut and haul timber throughout the last year.Prosser Timber Contractors has continued to cut and haul timber throughout the last year.

Jim Mailer closed down his business, Treeworks Moray, last March, only carrying out emergency works. By the summer, he had reopened and was upbeat when we last spoke about the future. Catching up with him, this optimism was still there.

“Work has come through as consistently as before the pandemic started. The lockdown and our initial wariness to carry out any work led to a one-third fall in turnover. Moray Council just recently had a business grant of £2,000 for businesses that had lost a third or more of turnover, so I took advantage of that to enable me to run repairs on some kit that I had set aside. In terms of operating, we keep customers at a distance as you’d expect.”

The initial lockdown has had a positive aspect, with Jim able to work on his new family home and business workshop. “The house is coming on well. I spent the winter months getting the inside much closer to building warrant requirements. With the better weather approaching, I will get outside to complete the cladding on the house and all the guttering and drains. The workshop has been on hold until this point. Having said that, the workshop has windows installed and electricity, so is functional for my needs just now.”

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Prosser Timber Contractors is one company that has operated right through the pandemic and, catching up with Derek Prosser, I found out more about what he, his dad and brothers had been up to since we last spoke. Once again, it was a positive picture with timber harvesting and firewood production records having been broken for the company. In addition, the business has taken on a young local man named Alex, who had been made unemployed by the pandemic.

Forestry Journal: Prosser Timber Contractors invested in a Botex XL Pro-14 timber trailer, which has hauled over 5,000 tonnes of timber since it was first employed on a worksite near Ullapool.Prosser Timber Contractors invested in a Botex XL Pro-14 timber trailer, which has hauled over 5,000 tonnes of timber since it was first employed on a worksite near Ullapool.

“Alex is a very skilled mechanic, and he is good at electrical wiring, which is very useful when he is in the workshop helping us with our other passion outside forestry, namely restoring tractors,” said Derek. “We mainly employed him though to operate our Valtra tractor and our new Botex XL Pro-14 timber trailer. This trailer has now hauled over 5,000 tonnes on one of our current sites near Ullapool. This site required a 2.5-mile secondary extraction to the main transfer point for the timber lorries to collect.

“It is around 8,000 tonnes in size and is now nearing completion.

“Donald and Henry have also been working on an 8,000-tonne spruce clearfell near Lairg using the John Deere 1470E and the Ponsse Wisent forwarder. Both these sites are for Euroforest, who have been keeping us busy. Looking back on last year as a whole, I honestly thought it was going to be a very bad one but, after a meeting with our accountant, it has turned out a good enough year after many long hours and a lot of hard work. It is good to have been busy but there is more to life than just a total work lifestyle. So, to take the pressure of ourselves a little, we have decided to train a couple of young operators, one being Alex on a forwarder, and another successful candidate will be chosen to train up operating a harvester.”


Forestry Journal: Hi-Line Forestry has continued to cut timber throughout the pandemic.Hi-Line Forestry has continued to cut timber throughout the pandemic.

Jonny Younger, whose business Hi-Line Forestry operates out of Haddington in East Lothian, has continued to cut timber right throughout the last year. The implementation of COVID-19 protocols, as he outlined when we last caught up, was less of an issue because of the remote working locations and the singular approach of hand-cutting.

“We have been working on a couple of local amenity woodland jobs and over the winter we had to deal with a lot of storm damage work. The Gremo forwarder that I purchased last year has certainly been a worthwhile investment. It has helped to boost our productivity and it is a great, powerful small forwarding machine. Even in challenging terrain, as we have experienced of late, it works well and it causes minimal ground impact damage.

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“Looking back on the last year I would say that we have kept going pretty well. In the woods, you very often don’t see many people and those that you do are normally happy, with direction, to avoid the work site. I have found some issues this year getting parts for machinery and equipment, but I suspect that might be more to do with Brexit than COVID-19. Like everyone else, I have just reverted to shopping online to get what I have needed. Going forward, post-pandemic, my vision is to keep investing in machinery and equipment.”

Forestry Journal: Jonny Younger of Hi-Line Forestry invested in a Gremo forwarder to help boost productivity.Jonny Younger of Hi-Line Forestry invested in a Gremo forwarder to help boost productivity.

Back in November, Mike Ramage, whose business Mike Ramage Forestry is involved in establishment, offered a cautious note, commenting that there had been a cutback on maintenance work and he believed that going forward there might be reduced felling, so, in turn, less restock planting. I was very interested to hear how things had been with him and his business, which is based in Melrose in the Scottish Borders. Catching up, Mike gave me his view of things now and looked back over the last year.

“Things are fairly bright at the moment. Prices for timber have improved and there is a lot more activity again. The worst thing seems to have been the weather after Christmas. We are busy planting just now. There is an issue with Forest and Land Scotland (FLS) and how long it takes to deal with applications. FLS stopped taking woodland applications for six weeks as they were understaffed and it makes it difficult to plan. Their financial year ends on 31 March, which is difficult in the planting world. We are planting for Buccleuch Estates near Thornhill just now, along with various sites for Tilhill. Moving forward, a lot will be dictated by the market for home-grown timber.

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“I think there has been an increase in demand for timber for such things as garden sheds and fencing materials. I would imagine Brexit has had an effect as well, as imports become more entangled in red tape. I think timber prices are increasing on a daily basis and joinery businesses are finding it difficult to source material. We had a lot of snow and frost in January and early February. Due to this, we lost the equivalent of 500 days’ planting – because of 20 days’ planting not carried out by our 25-man squad – which has been hard to catch up on, although I think we are nearly there now. There is certainly plenty of interest in planting trees, although finding the appropriate land is difficult.

“So, for us, things are certainly brighter, but that is to be expected at this time of year. All our team are back working, including the ones that we had to furlough. With the vaccine programme going what appears to be well, there is cautious optimism, although Europe does not seem to be improving quickly. On a final positive note, we are looking at employing some workers under the Kickstart scheme; this is a government scheme, which allows you to employ someone for six months with 25 hours at minimum wage covered by the government. It also provides £1,500 towards training and PPE.”


Forestry Journal: Demand for timber products has continued throughout the winter at James Carr & Sons sawmills.Demand for timber products has continued throughout the winter at James Carr & Sons sawmills.

Back in November, Olly Stephen, mill manager at the BSW K2 sawmill at Fort William, confirmed that they were reopening after having had 95 per cent of the workforce furloughed during the first lockdown. With a strong demand for the mill’s products he was, back then, expecting things to be quite buoyant for the sawmill at a time of the year when that would not ordinarily be the case. Six months on, and with a further lockdown period, it was good to catch up with Olly and find out how things had gone.

“K2 is operating really efficiently; the mill is having some of its best uptime and outputs on record in the past few months, which is testament to the hard work and efforts that have been going in by all. We now have 205 employees and are recruiting for additional apprentices this year too, showing the commitment of BSW Timber to the local economy and area.

“We have had some log supply issues, mainly due to poor weather in the preceding few months, but this seems to have recovered in the past six weeks. As well as this, Brexit has meant some delays to key parts coming from Europe, but this has been counteracted with purchasing slightly further in advance in anticipation of parts failing or demand.

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“COVID-wise, we have still only had seven employees out of the 205 test positive, with almost all of them associated with activities outside of the mill. Fort William, in general, has still been fairly well protected from COVID-19, with minimal cases, although the lack of visitors and tourists to the area has probably played a major part in this.

“The next few months look busy, with DIY and construction now competing for the same core products from the logs we are cutting! The last year has been incredibly challenging both personally and from a business perspective. Trying to keep every one of my employees and their families safe, both in their health and also financially, has placed quite a heavy burden on me. However, I do feel that we are definitely past the worst of it all now.”

Forestry Journal: Management and staff worked together to control risk, which helped maintain production through the pandemic at James Carr & Sons.Management and staff worked together to control risk, which helped maintain production through the pandemic at James Carr & Sons.

James Carr & Sons’ sawmill near Dundee carried on working throughout last year, and owner Stephen Havranek found he was extremely busy during this time. COVID-19 protocols and ongoing engagement with the sawmill workforce were part of the reason for success. Stephen was concerned when we last spoke that the winter months would see a downturn in demand for the products made at the mill. Thankfully, things did not turn out that way.

“Despite worries that our workload would tail off in the winter, our order books have remained very healthy. Coming into spring, we have had to take on additional staff to cope with the ever-increasing demand and we can see this continuing for the rest of the year. The shortage of sawlogs on the market, particularly larch and hardwood, was a concern for us this winter. Things seem to have settled down again and hopefully sawlog prices will come back from the heady heights they reached.

“Luckily, our markets can cope with the price rises we had to pass on. The mill is still operating with full COVID-19 protocols in place. I must take my hat off to our workforce. They have been religiously following government and company guidelines both at work and at home throughout this pandemic. As a result, we have not had a single confirmed case at the mill to date. We have come through this pandemic working and supporting each other and as a result have delivered business success for the sawmill.”

Forestry Journal: Liam Browning is looking forward to shipping more timber now the pandemic is coming under control.Liam Browning is looking forward to shipping more timber now the pandemic is coming under control.


Back in November, Duffy Skylining was reporting being back at work and working flat out to make up for the fact they had to furlough and close down due to COVID-19. Company owner Calum Duffy saw a period of hard work and effort being required to get the company back on track and manage COVID-19 on its various sites. He was also involved in developing the Safe Forestry app and was using it as a means of managing health and safety, as well as daily COVID-19 symptom checks.

“A year on, I would say we are back at business as usual, albeit with greater consideration of how we work on site. The main thing we try to implement is social distancing and good hygiene with handwashing facilities and welfare present. We try not to machine share whenever possible and have much more PPE widely available. Given forestry is a remote industry, we have found the various challenges presented by COVID-19 manageable.

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“Work has been steady in skylining and we have had good support from both Tilhill and FLS throughout the pandemic. Our Safe Forestry app has helped us log our COVID-19 checks and PPE requirements, which it evolved to do very quickly. In general, Duffy Skylining has had a busy year and I look forward to the future in skylining.”

Forestry Journal: Duffy Skylining has had a busy year, despite having to furlough staff at one point.Duffy Skylining has had a busy year, despite having to furlough staff at one point.

Transporting timber by boat is another specialist sector, and towards the end of last year Liam Browning was indicating that it had been a challenging time keeping his ships operating due to COVID-19 and the lack of opportunities to ship timber by sea. In November, he was looking towards the timber sector to see if demand for his ships and services was going to get better. He was more upbeat when we spoke this time.

“I am pleased to say that we have now started shipping timber from the Isle of Mull again; it is now in full swing at Pennyghael for Corpach and Troon. This commenced in March and looks like it will be a full programme over the next 12 months at least. Shipping from Argyll to Ireland remains strong, as well as on our usual routes of Campbeltown and Sandbank to Wicklow. I would say that we have doubled shipping timber via sea since we last spoke in November; that is how up and down the timber market goes for short sea shipping.

“For me though, there is still no support from the agencies on short sea shipping timber; we just get on with it without their support. For the last 12 months of COVID-19, I would say we are down only 10 per cent on what I would hope to achieve. But I count my blessings – it could have been a hell of a lot worse.”


Forestry Journal: Richard Spray of Pentland Biomass is focusing his business on firewood production.Richard Spray of Pentland Biomass is focusing his business on firewood production.

Throughout the last year, Richard Spray at Pentland Biomass has seen the impact of COVID-19 as an external factor to deal with while he has looked to derive further operational efficiencies from his business. When I last caught up with him, he was bringing on board a new Remet 150 log chopper. This has proved a great investment, with Richard telling me that they use it to produce ‘stove mix’, which is sold in the family garden centre.

Firewood production has increasingly become a focus for the business because there is more money to be made processing his own timber rather than selling it on, Richard said. Having started with one Tajfun 400 firewood processor, this has now grown to three, and in September this year Richard is investing in a Posch SpaltFix K-650 Vario firewood processor.

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“This processor can deal with logs up to 65 cm, cutting and splitting the logs fully automatically. It is so efficient I think it will save me two people in terms of how we are operating now. These people can be redeployed elsewhere in the business, as currently getting the right number of staff is challenging. It will mean that the existing staff can do other things as well as cut logs. I would hope to get the week’s logs cut in three days, not five as at present.

“From our current processors I estimate that each year we end up with around 12 artic-loads of screenings that have to be re-chipped. This will not happen with the K-650. As a result, these trucks will be able to be used for other duties and a lot of time and effort will be saved in our operation.”

Forestry Journal: Richard Spray of Pentland Biomass is focusing his business on firewood production.Richard Spray of Pentland Biomass is focusing his business on firewood production.

Having caught up with a few chainsaw carvers during the year, I know that, in the main, they have been able to continue carving during COVID-19, with their solitary working environments. They also tend to make good use of online channels such as Facebook and Instagram to promote their carvings, so offering online shopping to customers has been less of a problem for them.

I have kept in touch with Iain Chalmers of Chainsaw Creations during the last year, as I wrote a feature on him in January 2020, which seems like a lifetime ago, just before COVID-19 changed our whole way of doing things. So, to end my look back on the last year, I wanted to find out his thoughts on whether the summer round of countryside shows and carving competitions will take place this year.

“I can’t see any shows happening this year, although they are trying to do the Royal Highland Show virtually. So, it will be interesting to see how that turns out. COVID-19 has not really slowed me down since the first lockdown. I have still had plenty of orders coming in, and so I have not really missed the shows from that point of view. However, it would be nice to get out and away from the workshop for a day or two.”

Iain’s sentiments are probably shared by all of us and, as the various governments in the UK start to announce the easing of restrictions and now that travel can take place across the country, perhaps it is something that can be done more over the summer months. It is anticipated that by June the country should be fully reopened for business, and not only the forestry sector but also the rest of industry, business and commerce can start to look ahead to a time when COVID-19 does not have such a major impact on the way things are done.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

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