Setting out to supply the highest-quality machinery to the arb and forestry sectors, Field and Forest has come a long way in just a few years. Forestry Journal visited its headquarters near Edinburgh to learn more about its history and how it meets the machinery needs of its wide range of customers.

WHEN Forestry Journal paid a visit to Field and Forest on a sunny morning in April, it found company director Tom Brown in his element – on the phone with a customer, discussing their latest tree shear needs.

Selling tree shears over the phone is how Tom’s career as a machinery dealer began. Seven years later, he’s still doing the same thing, but his business has grown around him, developing into a significant player in the sector with an enviable list of suppliers and a strong customer base.

Forestry Journal: Field and Forest headquarters in Broxburn, Scotland.Field and Forest headquarters in Broxburn, Scotland.

Based in Broxburn, just outside Edinburgh, Field and Forest is a forestry machinery and plant dealership with expertise in woodchippers and excavator attachments, supplying the highest-quality machinery to the arb and forestry sectors. From its modern workshop and warehouse, it supplies new and used machinery along with offering servicing, fabrication and hire across the UK.

Its customers include arb and forestry professionals of all sizes, landowners, estate managers, local authorities, construction specialists and even public bodies such as Network Rail. Going from supplying one-man bands to major infrastructure providers in under 10 years is no mean feat, but is testament to the kind of service Field and Forest offers, its credibility and the quality of its products.

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Coming from a farming background, Tom has always been interested in machinery. From an early age, working on his family’s livestock farm in the Borders, he gained experience of working with and maintaining a range of diggers, tractors and more.

Forestry Journal: Michael Liness and Tom Brown - the Field and Forest machinery sales team.Michael Liness and Tom Brown - the Field and Forest machinery sales team.

His knowledge grew when he relocated down south, taking a job for a tree surgery company in Essex, where he operated a variety of attachments and other kit in felling operations.

His interest in machinery dealing developed when he purchased his own woodchipper, refurbished it and sold it on through eBay, making a tidy profit in the process. Already convinced of a need in the market for a specialist in forestry-related excavator attachments, he began mulling over the idea of going into business for himself.

Establishing his company in Broxburn, close to friends and family, he started out with more second-hand kit, doing it up and selling it on, using social media to reach new customers. Through Facebook he found he had access to active communities of arborists across the UK, constantly on the hunt for used equipment that was in good shape and reliable.

Forestry Journal: A small portion of Field and Forest’s fleet of hire equipment.A small portion of Field and Forest’s fleet of hire equipment.

The next challenge was to find some suppliers looking for a partner to sell their new products into the UK and Ireland market. One of the first to come on board was OMEF, Italian manufacturer of tree shears, for whom Field and Forest is now the UK’s leading dealer.

Tom explained: “When I started out, I didn’t have customers lined up. I had to cultivate them. So I picked up the phone and called anyone I could, asking, ‘Do you want to buy a tree shear?’ I offered to service and repair machinery. I offered to give the local operators a hand with their jobs. As I got to know people, sales picked up fairly quick.

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“When you’ve got one supplier on board and it’s going well, then others become quite keen. Every year we’ve been contacted by new suppliers and added new products to our range, but it’s all been organic growth.”

Forestry Journal: Parts in stock.Parts in stock.

So what does Field and Forest look for in a supplier? For Tom, quality is key.

“It’s all about the quality of design and manufacture,” he said. “It’s very easy to find out if it’s good or not. Every brand we sell, if it’s not already the market leader, it’s in the running. Manufacturer warranties are important too. We want a manufacturer to stand behind their product, which ours all do. Performance-wise, it’s got to be strong enough to cope with UK forestry. At the same time, it’s all got to be safe and supplied in line with HSE. I’d say we supply the high end of the market, when it comes to equipment.”

Field and Forest’s current stable of brands includes FEMAC mulchers, Intermercato grabs, Jo Beau chippers and stump grinders, Indeco mulchers, Duun firewood processing equipment and Bandit chippers and stump grinders (for which Field and Forest is the agent for Scotland).

It is the sole distributor for TerraTech, a manufacturer of tree shears and stump shears based in the UK (a particular asset amid the turmoil of Brexit). In 2018 it became the first Scottish dealer to be recruited by Jensen, providing sales, hire and service support for its highly regarded range of chippers. And last year it was appointed as a representative for GMT grapple saws, which Tom said had proved very popular.

“I would say it’s the market-leading grapple saw,” he said. “It’s so simple to use. Recently, GMT introduced Total Tree Control, which is a game changer for the arb industry. It turns a felling head into a fixed saw at the press of a button. Over the last six months we’ve fitted them onto a range of truck cranes, excavators and telehandlers. It’s the ideal tool for safely dissecting dead trees and a lot of the bigger arb companies are going down that route.”

Forestry Journal: The new TerraTech 800 stump shear in the field.The new TerraTech 800 stump shear in the field.

Field and Forest’s arrival on the market was fortuitously timed, coinciding with the growing mechanisation of tree work over the last few years.

“Mechanised arb has really taken off,” said Tom. “One of the reasons behind that is contractors can’t get the staff to do the job. The other big factor is health and safety. Ash dieback has really accelerated it, especially the use of grapple saws. You don’t want guys going up in trees with those issues. And loads of contractors are now investing in small arb diggers, for which we can provide all the attachments. We do small machines right up to 30 tonne. On tree shears we offer everything from a 200 mm cut right up to a 500 mm cut.”

Beyond the sale of attachments, Field and Forestry offers fabrication, on-site installation and servicing. It recently added a ProCut plasma cutter to the workshop to improve turnaround time.

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Tom said: “If someone orders an attachment from me, as soon as I put the phone down we can start drawing up the brackets, cut them, weld them, prepare the hydraulic hoses, then we’ll go out and install it, wherever it is in the UK. From start to finish, you can get everything from us. We will offer trialling and advice on operation. As for servicing, we can offer anything from having your chipper serviced right through to a full rebuild, stripped right down, back to basics, restored to an as-new condition.”

Forestry Journal: A GMT grapple saw on a Merlo Roto 50.30 telehandler.A GMT grapple saw on a Merlo Roto 50.30 telehandler.

Making it possible for customers to bring machines in for servicing without suffering a couple of days of downtime, Field and Forest has in the last few years added a fleet of forestry machines for hire. Available to customers across the UK and Ireland, the range has grown to include all manner of equipment required for forestry management, site clearance, road development, tree removal and firewood processing – including whole-tree chippers from Bandit, arb chippers, tree shears, grabs, mulchers and more.

“We’ve got a really good, high-quality range of machinery in the hire fleet,” said Tom. “We’ve got 18 pieces of equipment and, currently, hardly any of them are in the yard. The rest are scattered across the UK, some working on projects on the M6 and other equipment working on HS2. Thanks to the palett network, we can send our hire equipment nationwide for next-day delivery. It’s really opened doors for the business.”

Having outgrown its previous premises, Field and Forest moved to a far more suitable location early in 2020. A former Royal Mail cash-handling centre, the unit was subdivided and completely redeveloped, affording Field and Forest a new workshop with ample storage for stock, modern offices and a spacious yard which customers and delivery trucks can access with ease.

Forestry Journal: On-site service and repair.On-site service and repair.

Although undoubtedly a positive move, it came at a challenging time, with rising COVID-19 rates across the country eventually leading to a national lockdown.

“It was very worrying to begin with,” said Tom. “We moved into our new building and within three weeks the world was shut down and everyone was at home. But we just kept going. And the forestry industry never stopped, so we benefited from picking up business from those who did stop. Because it’s just a small team, we were happy to come in and get on with things.”

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If there has been a silver lining to the cloud of COVID, it has been the introduction of a ‘super-deduction’ tax break, announced in this year’s Budget, which means businesses can now claim 130 per cent of what they spend on plant and machinery against taxable profits.

This is something Field and Forest considers a great opportunity for forestry firms, which could help get more people investing and more kit moving.

“It’s a great thing for the industry across the board, not just for us but for other suppliers and forestry companies,” said Tom. “Hopefully contractors will be aware of it and won’t only find out at the end of the period. Now’s the time to buy.”

Forestry Journal: The CNC profile cutter at work.The CNC profile cutter at work.

However, if the pandemic ultimately threw up no great issues, Brexit, following hot on its heels, has been a different matter. As an importer and distributor of so many attachments and machines from across Europe and elsewhere, Field and Forest couldn’t afford to be relaxed about it, even if no-one could be clear about the threat it posed.

“We didn’t have a clue what was going on,” said Tom. “We tried to navigate it fairly sensibly with our suppliers, making sure there was plenty of stock in place for the new year, but come January we were all sitting here with no warning of what was going to happen. Our suppliers were the same. Eventually they started sending stuff over without any major problems. Parts are taking slightly longer to arrive, but you just have to manage expectations. If you need something rushed overnight from Europe, you can still get it, but you have to pay.

“Getting things into Ireland was a bit more difficult. There was a lot of paperwork. It certainly slowed the second-hand trade to Ireland and we almost lost a few sales because of it. But these are challenges we can adapt to.”

Not yet 30 years old, Tom is aware he’s much younger than the average person working in forestry, particularly those with a business the size of his. And he considers his youth – and that of his team – a big advantage.

“Being young, we’re not set in our ways, so we can adapt,” he said. “When you’ve been in business for a lot of years and you’ve got no-one coming up to challenge you; you can get a bit tired of it, a bit complacent. But someone young, who’s keen to make a go of it, will grasp opportunities and fully commit themselves. We’ve got a good young team, not only with a strong knowledge of forestry, but with a good knowledge of business as well.

“I think it is an asset in this business to be young and energetic. We’re passionate about what we do and we all come to work because we enjoy it. I’m quite happy to work seven days a week – especially during lockdown, when there’s nothing else happening.”

Looking ahead, it is hoped Field and Forest will continue to grow at its current comfortable rate, adding new products, services, employees and customers as opportunities present themselves.

As company director, however Tom’s responsibilities develop in the coming years, it is likely he will continue to spend much of his time the same way he began – on the phone, selling tree shears.

“I look at it from an operator’s perspective,” he said. “When I’m speaking with an arb customer and they tell me they’re looking at a certain tree they want to take down, I can visualize it. I understand exactly what they’re trying to do and how they can do it, because I’ve used every machine we’ve got in the field.

“That makes a big difference to customers, to know they’re speaking to someone with knowledge, who’s going to offer solutions, who’s engaged and available and won’t treat them like just another number.”

Tom said Field and Forest’s success is based on three things: “The great relationships we have with our suppliers, the quality of our equipment and the service we provide. We grew because customers we sold our first attachments to were so impressed with the service they came back looking for us to provide the rest of their equipment needs.

“Now we offer the complete package, but whether someone calls me looking to buy a grab for £1,500 or a chipper for £70,000, they all get the same service. That’s why we do so well. Every customer matters.”

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