BIG, ugly, seemingly useless and full of it. No, not anyone on Forestry Journal’s editorial team. One of the most talked-about topics on the Forest Machine Operators Blog this month was – you guessed it – welfare units.

The requirement of welfare units is a thorny subject for the sector, with many seeing them as a prime example of rules and regulations gone out of control, which sound good on paper but burden those actually in the forest doing the hard graft. A flushable toilet, hot and cold water. Necessities, sure. But a headache to implement and maintain out in the sticks.

Letting off steam, a Blog member got the ball rolling: “I know, let’s buy something else no one will use and will be a pain moving around the country! Welfare unit number six; the bloody things still grieve me. I comprehend it for a squad of cutters working out in the elements; just bloody saying!”

Forestry Journal: Arnis Brenčevs.Arnis Brenčevs.

One Blog member very graciously offered to visit the site and relieve themselves using the facilities, “just so you’re satisfied they’re being used and all”. How kind. “You’ll be cleaning the bugger out then,” the author replied.

“We’ve never used any of ours yet. Handy for storage, that’s all,” was one response, while another added: “Complete waste of time and money. Words fail me nowadays. I know we have to abide by the all-seeing HSE, but this carry-on is something else.”

A West Midlands-based contractor had a good point to make: “On a building site with 20 lads, in a residential area, it’s very much needed. On a 20-hectare harvesting site with two staff, in the middle of nowhere, no, it’s a total waste of time, money and resources.”

Forestry Journal: Filip Lindström.Filip Lindström.

Another contractor chipped in, somewhat less sympathetically: “you should have got together to oppose it, but no one did. Typical forestry industry. Now everyone’s grizzling.”

READ MORE: Bites from the Blog: Access all areas?

One suggestion was to turn it into a portable bar, somewhere to hunker down and forget your troubles, while another said they would make for good strong dog kennels. Another Blog member longed for the good old days: “What’s wrong with having a crap behind a tree? It worked in the past. If it’s not broken, why try and fix it?”

A second post on the subject of welfare units came from a contractor who has had four damaged on harvesting sites in South Wales in recent months, with one being completely stripped. This is part of the larger issue of crime and theft on sites, with welfare units being just one more thing that can be vandalised or broken into, costing the contractor money. And who’s footing the bill?

Forestry Journal: Daniel Macdonald.Daniel Macdonald.

“Since the HSE, Natural Resources Wales, FISA, and the FCA all got together and insisted contractors had them on site, perhaps they will be willing to make a contribution to the cost,” said one Blog member... with a hint of sarcasm, perhaps? Another member branded the units “a waste of money and even worse when they get broken or broken into”.

Some have suggested using a cheap caravan, rather than a welfare unit – and on the subject of caravans, a Scottish member asked the Blog: “Anybody stay in a self-converted campervan rather than a caravan?”

Several responses made the point that caravans are more spacious and comfortable, with more room for tools and the like, and a shower in a caravan is a must-have. However, one operator said having a van is handy if you can move it easily and it isn’t being left on site at weekends. “I’ve had it for three years and don’t know if I’d go back to a caravan,” he added.

Forestry Journal: Alan Dickie.Alan Dickie.

The author replied: “That would be my thinking. One vehicle can move around easily, keep an eye on machines easily, take home at weekends, which is easier to clean out. I understand the size difference between one and a van, but you only really need it set as single berth if needed.”

Another member even had a van with a double bed, cooker and shower, as well as a games console and 44-inch television – not too shabby.

READ MORE: Bites from the Blog: Recruitment drive

Elsewhere on the Blog, there was talk of tree-planting targets, following the release of the England Trees Action Plan. Increased rates at the same time as tree nurseries facing closure. How does that make sense?

“Is it me? Am I missing something? The government has just set out its strategy for tree-planting rates for the rest of this parliament. So, from around 2,340 ha at the moment to 7,000 ha in four years. At the same time, Forestry England announces that Wykeham Forest Tree Nursery will close for good in April 2022. Please someone put me out of my misery and explain how this works?”

Forestry Journal: Daniel Macdonald.Daniel Macdonald.

The Blog was happy to oblige. “There are a number of reasons stated for the nursery’s closure,” replied a member who specialises in land management consultancy and contracting. “Although Forestry England (FE) do accept demand for trees has increased, the nursery predominately supplies Scotland and Wales. Both Scotland and Wales now purchase their trees from private nurseries and so effectively the nursery is surplus to requirements.

“Also, due to climate change factors, the type and way trees are grown has to be modified and they have identified that their nursery in Cheshire is the one that’s best suited for this change. Whether it’s seen as incompetence or not on FE’s part, considering all the factors it seems they were backed into the corner of having to close it regardless of tree demand. Perhaps, if the government had taken the situation with climate change and forest tree supply seriously many years ago, this issue wouldn’t have arisen.”

To weigh in with your own thoughts on any of the above, the Forest Machine Operators Blog on Facebook is the place to go.

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