With nearly three decades of experience behind him, Andy Spittlehouse specialises in forestry work with a hands-on, no-nonsense approach. Mark Stone caught up with him at his home on the outskirts of York to learn more.

ASKED about the name of his business, ADS Timber, Andy Spittlehouse admitted it may indicate a lack of imagination. “I just used my initials: Andrew David Spittlehouse,” he said. “It more or less follows the direction I eventually chose to take with my work and equipment. Time, mistakes and experience have taught me various hard lessons about forestry, along with the fact that if you want regular work, taking on the jobs others don’t want is the way to go. Their loss, my gain!”

Like many people in the forestry industry, Andy discovered early on that working indoors for a boss wasn’t for him. From leaving school in 1989, first entering the building trade, followed by a brief stint in a factory, Andy eventually came to work for his uncle, who got him a job in the timber trade through his contacts in the Forestry Commission.

He said: “I started stacking timber by hand before moving on to cross-cutting with a chainsaw, then stacking it by hand before so-called promotion to tractor driving, all of which kept me in employment for what was quite a few years. But like most families, a disagreement meant I went off to find work elsewhere. What I have to say is that, while my uncle wasn’t the easiest of men to work for, he taught me an awful lot about the basics of hand felling and how to do a good job with the minimum of the fancy, expensive equipment others now insist on having.”

Forestry Journal: Andy Spittlehouse and his trusty Nissan Navara.Andy Spittlehouse and his trusty Nissan Navara.

The other interesting aspect about the era when Andy started out was the fact there were no such things as the now familiar ‘tickets’. Providing you wore a hard hat, suitable chainsaw boots, trousers and gloves, education around learning to use a chainsaw boiled down to a lesson from an old hand and as much common sense as you could muster.

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“Back then it was hard graft, but 95 per cent of my work was around the Dalby area and the amount of work available was more than enough for me to start out on my own when I was about 25,” said Andy. “I went out and bought a County 11-64 tractor with a blade on the front and a double-drum Igland winch on the back and teamed up with a lad I’d worked with in the past. With the contacts I’d built up we got more than enough work, but it was also a baptism of fire. I’d never marketed timber, so I had to learn very quickly how to price up a job and just how much work you could get done in a day.

Forestry Journal: ADS Timber currently operates two harvesters, two forwarders and two winch tractors.ADS Timber currently operates two harvesters, two forwarders and two winch tractors.

“Equipment wise, a harvester was the way forward. I was able to get the finance for a harvester and forwarder, an Osa 250 Eva and a Kockums 83-35, both of which came with their fair share of breakdowns. I’d been reliably informed that these machines were the best you could get back in the day. Problem was, by the time I bought them, they’d had their day. I spent hours on the telephone ringing people to ask how to repair them.”

The dawn of realisation for Andy came a little faster than he’d anticipated and the day came when he had to sell up in order to pay off his debts. He became determined that, from that day forward, he’d never again become involved with finance. If he couldn’t afford to buy it, he wouldn’t be having it.

Forestry Journal: Andy is a recent convert to Stihl chainsaws.Andy is a recent convert to Stihl chainsaws.

The one piece of equipment Andy was able to keep was his tractor, which meant he was able to hire himself out to larger contractors, undertaking felling and winching jobs in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire along with increasing his own firewood supplies around the York area, the demand ever increasing.

It also allowed Andy to take a small backward step and study exactly what was required and where the gaps in the market were. In other words, what were the large country estates looking for that the other forestry companies weren’t fulfilling?

Forestry Journal: A Logset 10H harvester was added to the fleet at the end of 2019.A Logset 10H harvester was added to the fleet at the end of 2019.

He said: “By doing the jobs other contractors didn’t want I started to increase the amount of work I was being offered. Basically, everyone else chased the Forestry Commission work, which meant the rates of pay were basically ever decreasing. But as someone who’d always done a lot of work by hand and who wasn’t overly reliant on machinery, the felling and clearing work on the steep hills, inaccessible locations and other similar work started coming in. The other thing I pride myself on – and it’s something my uncle always taught me – is to do a good job. Don’t make a mess, and leave the finished job as clean and tidy as is possible.”

Forestry Journal: Andy’s reliable County tractor uses an Igland 5002 winch.Andy’s reliable County tractor uses an Igland 5002 winch.

Taking this approach caused word-of-mouth recommendations to spread very quickly, with numerous estates contacting him about work they were struggling to find a contractor for. Andy also ensures that he tells his customers the job will take as long as it takes, to ensure the work is carried out to both his and their expectations and standards.

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Employee-wise, Andy has always kept it as small as he can. Until recently, he had three employees, but two of them left due to the fact they didn’t have their chainsaw tickets, while the last remaining lad found the amount of chainsaw work was getting beyond him. Now he has just one trainee on staff.

Forestry Journal: Andy relies on good, second-hand machinery for his business.Andy relies on good, second-hand machinery for his business.

“Taking on the type of work ADS carries out is, as I’ve said, physically demanding,” said Andy. “Lots of younger people coming into the industry want to spend their working day sat in a nice cab operating a forwarder or whatever. With me, although we use tractors and other machinery, its more old fashioned. Some of the places I get to means machines aren’t an option. The issue for us is that, while we’ve more than enough woodlands that require maintenance, finding fully qualified chainsaw operators is becoming increasingly difficult. I don’t have the time or the money to start training people. It doesn’t bode well for the forestry industry as a whole.

“We all know that health and safety is becoming increasingly involved in all aspects of forestry, but at times it gets to be too much. Training people how to carry out a job is great, how to operate machinery is a given, but at times all the political correctness and such-like is getting beyond a joke. Forestry is a demanding, physical job and people talk, chat and pass comments that some might find offend their delicate sensibilities. But if we aren’t careful, nothing will ever get done. We’ll just spend all day filling in forms.”

Forestry Journal: Processing firewood - an area of expansion for the business.Processing firewood - an area of expansion for the business.

Although he occasionally strays over into Lancashire and back down into Lincolnshire, Andy’s main area of work stretches from Leeds over to Scarborough – about one-and-a-half hours away from home. Having a young family, Andy still likes to get back home each evening at a sensible hour to see his son and take care of the paperwork and all the other aspects of running his own small business.

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Currently operating two harvesters, two forwarders and two winch tractors, while Andy’s current selection of machinery isn’t brand new, by buying wisely he ensures they are in full working order and he doesn’t owe anything on them. Even his latest chainsaw, a change from his usual, is all his.

Forestry Journal: Like many contractors, ADS Timber has gained a lot of experience with ash dieback in recent months.Like many contractors, ADS Timber has gained a lot of experience with ash dieback in recent months.

“For years I always used two or three Husqvarna 372XPs, until a friend of mine insisted that I tried his new Stihl 500i. I was so impressed I went and bought one complete with a 25” bar and an 18” bar, the one I use nearly all of the time. I couldn’t get over how fast the new Stihl was, how well it handled and how efficient it was. What I don’t have and won’t have is all the fancy clothing and accessories that go with it. Same with my three vehicles, none of them costing me more than £2,000. My most used is my 57-plate Nissan Navara double-cab pickup. Given most of my customers are estate offices or similar, I don’t need some fancy, sign-written motor to arrive in. Just an honest hard-working 4x4 will do. I also have a Ford Transit van as my mobile workshop that’s incredibly reliable and an Iveco chassis cab with a tipper body on the back.”

Forestry Journal: The Timberjack 404 skidder is popular with all the family.The Timberjack 404 skidder is popular with all the family.

On site, Andy’s kit is relatively familiar to most forestry contractors, who will recognise it as good, reliable machinery: a Logset 10H harvester with a TH75 head, a Ponsse Ergo harvester with an H73E head, a pair of Valmet 860.1 forwarders, an 11-64 County tractor with an Igland 5002 winch, a Valmet 8100 tractor with a firewood processor, and a Timberjack 404 skidder with a double-drum winch on the rear. Nothing too fancy, but all good, down-to-earth equipment that he can rely on or repair wherever he is.

Looking forward, Andy aims to start retailing logs, but it’s the firewood that is the expanding side of his business. Retailing at the side of the road from wherever he’s working, the demand is incredible.

He said: “If I had an articulated trailer full of firewood, I’d still be looking for more. Consumption of firewood around here constantly exceeds supply. Once word gets out that there’s firewood available at wherever I am, I guarantee it’ll all be gone in an afternoon, no matter how much there might be. I’m moving slowly into selling saw-logs and similar of all grades, coming to an arrangement with the estates. As it is, many of my clients prefer to retain everything to sell themselves, but agreements are starting to be made that’ll ensure everyone is happy.”

One last request from Andy is if there’s anyone out there who is looking for some old-school-style forestry work, who is qualified on chainsaws, enjoys working in places that aren’t just at the side of the road, isn’t afraid of getting hands-on or getting their clothing a little bit dirty and doesn’t want to spend all day in a cab, please could they get in touch. Like firewood, people like this are in short supply!

To get in touch with Andy call 07710 641528, email him on thetreesurgeon@live.co.uk or visit his website at www.forestryservicesyorkshire.co.uk.

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