No stranger to tough challenges, former military man Graeme Ogg bounced back from redundancy in 2020 to launch his own tree surgery business.

HAVING spent 12 “awesome” years in the Royal Marines Corps, Graeme Ogg recently opted for a new career in the Timber Corps, setting up his own arboriculture business, Timber Tree Surgery.

Graeme, based in Monifieth, was first exposed to tree work by his uncle, Chris Storie, with whom he spent many happy hours performing groundsman duties. After 22 years in the army, Chris settled in Beverley by Kingston upon Hull. His company was called Greenleaves Tree Surgery and he traded for around 10 years.

“He is the reason I’m now a tree surgeon,” said Graeme. “I enjoyed his company, loved the smell of aspen and freshly cut timber, but more importantly, it was his instruction I enjoyed. He seemed instinctive in the trees. The biggest single event that changed my life was losing my dad nearly six years ago. He had been ill for a while, but we did not expect him to go the way he did. After dad, I then lost Chris. My dad and my uncle were very close to me and there isn’t a day that passes I don’t think about them.”

Graeme’s parents were in the family business, Millars of Broughty Ferry, which operated a series of ladies and gents outfitters. After graduating from the University of Abertay with an honours degree in Business & Marketing, it seemed that a career in retail beckoned for him. Indeed, he spent 10 months at the retail fashion chain Gap in their unit in the nearby Overgate Shopping Centre in Dundee.

However, Graeme had grown up during the Falklands War and was fascinated by an iconic picture he had on his bedroom wall of the Royal Marines yomping to Stanley. Above the picture were the words ‘The Elite’. Inspired by the image, Graeme joined the Corps on the 27th of July, 2001, and served in a variety of roles over 12 years in a number of different parts of the world before leaving for medical reasons in 2013.

Forestry Journal: Graeme in Iraq, serving with the Royal Marines.Graeme in Iraq, serving with the Royal Marines.

“I passed out of Commando Training Centre Royal Marine (CTCRM) Lympstone and joined 45 Commando Royal Marines in Arbroath, Scotland,” Graeme said. “I sadly spent the first year in rehab as I had dislocated my shoulder playing rugby. However, once fit I joined Yankee Company. I loved wearing my green beret and becoming a commando. We deployed to the United States on Exercise Blackhorse and I really learned my trade as a general duties rifleman. We were also embarked forces aboard HMS Albion. It was awesome. I was then sent to Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines (FPGRM), where the Trident missile carriers are berthed.

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“It was my duty to protect them and this we did. I was then assigned to Fleet Standby Rifle Troop (FSRT), deployed to Iraq in 2006 and Somalia the following year. I was sent to CTCRM for my junior command course and was then picked to take recruits through training. It was a real honour to do this. At that time, I really wanted to go Special Forces (SF) and join the Special Reconnaissance Regiment. I worked hard and got myself as fit as possible, but sadly my body wasn’t up to it and I badly hurt my knee. At this stage, I thought it was just a twist, but x-rays revealed arthritis.

Forestry Journal: Graeme’s first job, dropping a sycamore.Graeme’s first job, dropping a sycamore.

“I had just married my wife Lynne at this point and had moved her from a safe job in Dundee as an estate agent to the married patch in Exmouth. Wedded bliss it was for a while, until the Corps decided I could not be a commando and the employability board made me redundant. I went to my commanding officer, who was appalled at my treatment and essentially saved my career. I had to retrain as a stores accountant and move back to Condor.

“I then deployed on Herrick 14 to Afghanistan where I was the storeman for the whole battle group. I had to account for everything from rifles to rolling stock and everything in between. I picked up promotion to sergeant off the back of the successful tour and settled back into life at Condor again. However, by this time I had had enough and elected to leave under medical grounds. I left the Corps on 22nd of August, 2013. Our son Spencer was celebrating his first birthday that year.”

Graeme followed up his structured, successful and enjoyable career in the Corps with a number of other jobs. Initially, he joined FMC Technologies, operating in the oil and gas sector, as a logistician. The oil price crash in 2015 led to redundancy and to Graeme and Lynne investing in a Rugbytots franchise for kids, which they still have.

“Rugbytots is a play programme for children aged two to seven years old. It specialises in teaching the core skills of catching, kicking and passing using agility, balance and coordination. My team of coaches and I run it in Broughty Ferry on a Saturday morning, coaching around 60 plus kids a week with the aim of coaching 100 plus by year-end.

Forestry Journal: A very dead weeping willow at Kinloch Park in Dundee, by Ninewells Hospital, that the council decided to take down and Graeme duly obliged.A very dead weeping willow at Kinloch Park in Dundee, by Ninewells Hospital, that the council decided to take down and Graeme duly obliged.

“At the same time as getting involved in that, I did other jobs ranging from taxi driver to roofer, but I never really took to them. I then went back to the oil and gas sector and worked for a French company called Vallourec, which makes the drilling pipes for offshore drilling. It was my job to send the loads out to the rigs. Then, COVID-19 hit, and I was again made redundant. It was horrendous, but after having had three different jobs I now had a plan in my mind for my next one.”

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That plan was to move into arboriculture and set up his own business. Military personnel, through the Enhanced Learning Credits Administration Service (ELCAS) scheme, are encouraged to participate in lifelong learning. The scheme offers financial support to contribute to any higher-level learning course or training embarked upon. Graeme still had some ELCAS funding available, allowing him to train to become a full-time arborist. When making enquiries, he found Lynher Training in Cornwall the most switched-on and chose them.

He said: “I got all my tickets in a four-week block. Basic chainsaw and dropping trees to 380 mm, entering a tree with rope and harness, free-fall techniques with a chainsaw using rope and harness, chipper, forestry first-aid and tree planting and tree identification. I loved it and by god did it rain! Our instructor, Dave Berryman – a great guy and good instructor – said one day, with a wry smile while it battered down, that it was his wettest course ever. I really enjoyed the tree felling in the forests and applying the different cuts on trees, which now makes me smile every time I do it. I can still hear Dave shouting ‘timber’.”

Forestry Journal: The holly stump, which led to the Courier feature, and was tackled with a hired Dosko stump grinder. Jobs like this led Graeme to buy his own stump grinder, which paid for itself in 10 days.The holly stump, which led to the Courier feature, and was tackled with a hired Dosko stump grinder. Jobs like this led Graeme to buy his own stump grinder, which paid for itself in 10 days.

Graeme was also delighted to receive support from Poppy Scotland in the form of an employment grant, which it fast tracked. It also donated £6,000 in kit and equipment and paid for Graeme’s accommodation when he was in Cornwall. “We actually approached the Royal Marines Charity first, but they referred us on to Poppy Scotland,” Graeme said. “Poppy Scotland is at the top of the servicemen tree when it comes to employment grants. They work with guys and gals an awful lot worse off than me and, to their credit, they make you feel number one. For every pound you earn in the military, you pay a penny towards the Legion. I cannot thank the team that helped me enough, especially Danielle Coll who was incredible.”

So, after a passion for arboriculture fuelled by his Uncle Chris and a period of extensive training, Graeme returned to Scotland and Timber Tree Surgery was open for business. Right away came a couple of early lessons. The first was that the promise of work does not always come to fruition, as he found out when one local company let him down. He also learned that costing and pricing jobs is definitely an art and worth taking time to do properly. The first tree he dropped was an 80 ft diseased monster oak which he underpriced and underestimated the time involved, making about 50p from the job.

Forestry Journal: Putting together the new Lumag stump grinder.Putting together the new Lumag stump grinder.

Despite these early challenges, Graeme has not looked back, with work continuing to roll in. Primarily operating in the Dundee and Angus areas, he is not averse to travelling, having been up as far as Stonehaven and Aberdeen to carry out jobs. He promotes his business through Facebook and, by a stroke of luck, while working on a tree job, he managed to get an article on his business in The Courier newspaper, which has helped immensely with regard to getting more jobs.

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“I was contacted by a young lady through Facebook who wanted a holly stump removed,” he said. “I duly obliged, hired a stump grinder, and cracked on in the sleet and snow in January. It was blooming brass monkeys. She brought me a cup of coffee and we got talking. It turned out she and her husband were journalists for DC Thomson. Randomly, my wife Lynne had tagged her husband in a Twitter post about Poppy Scotland helping us. After we both twigged then regaled him with the story and he interviewed me over the phone a week later, while I was 40 ft up a beech tree, ‘in my office’, as I said. The rest is history.”

Forestry Journal: A monster tree stump. The saw has a 25-inch bar (for scale). Working on it took five hours, involved throwing a chain and snapping two teeth on the second replacement.A monster tree stump. The saw has a 25-inch bar (for scale). Working on it took five hours, involved throwing a chain and snapping two teeth on the second replacement.

Currently, Graeme is concentrating on mainly domestic work on all kinds of trees, big and small, and even tackles leylandii hedges, which he describes as the worst species to deal with. He does not rule out doing commercial work in the future, but feels he needs to become more established and build a strong brand and business to gain work. He certainly is working towards this and is building up his equipment portfolio as he goes.

Graeme favours Stihl chainsaws, partly because Uncle Chris swore by them, but also because he feels they are more robust and bulletproof than the Husqvarna brands. “I own an MS462 with a 25” Tsumura bar,” he said. “It is an incredible bit of kit and possibly the most robust piece of chainsaw equipment I own. I also have an MS251 with a Sugihara 18” bar. I use the Tsumura and Sugihara bars as I believe they are a better quality of steel than the bars Stihl provides. They tend to be a bit heavier and in my opinion pinch less. The Stihl bars, I find, seem to flex more.

Forestry Journal: Graeme complete with his Pfanner Protos helmet and his go-to saw, the Stihl MS251. Behind is a beech tree, which he was doing a crown lift job on.Graeme complete with his Pfanner Protos helmet and his go-to saw, the Stihl MS251. Behind is a beech tree, which he was doing a crown lift job on.

“The MS251 is a good all-rounder and is my go-to saw. It is about to be replaced by an MS261, again with an 18” bar, as I am trying to build redundancy into my kit. My top handle is an MS201 TC petrol with a 12” Stihl bar and I really enjoy using this. As yet, I don’t have anything else to compare it to.

“My latest purchase is a Stihl pole saw with the combi attachments and a KM131 R KombiEngine. It is a cracking bit of kit. Even my leaf blower is Stihl. It’s a BR 800c, again awesome. I use Angus Chainsaws, out by Inverkeilor, as my Stihl dealer and those guys are brilliant. Both Ken and Andy Wallace know everything Stihl related.”

Graeme has also made very specific choices when it comes to his climbing equipment, recognising the importance of both safety and comfort. He uses Marlow Gecko ropes because these are the ropes he used while in the Corps, using 25 m and 35 m ropes. His flip line is a Petzl Zillion. Petzl was his first brand of choice for a climbing helmet but he found the visor kept falling off.

“I wanted a good, reliable helmet and initially used a Petzl, but for me it didn’t quite cut it, so I invested in the Pfanner Protos,” he said. “It may be uber bucks, but for me it just does what you need it to. You can also buy the Bluetooth headsets so you can have a communications link.”

His harness is Teufelberger Tree Motion Evo, which he describes as “awesome and comfortable and for me it works for my needs and requirements. I borrowed a Petzl Sequoia but for me the Tree Motion is superior”. His spikes are Bashlin with Silky Saw as a secondary. He said he once borrowed Treehog spikes, but in his view, they just don’t compare to the Bashlins. 

I wondered in my discussions with Graeme if there were any skills he learned in the Corps that he has been able to transfer to his new career. Perhaps not surprisingly, one of the skills that has been transferable is knot tying. The other, discipline, also makes sense. “Most of all and for me, the key to arb work is administration of your kit and equipment,” he said. “It is a fundamental of being a commando. Prior preparation prevents piss-poor performance.”

Graeme has found a lot of demand from clients for stump removal and recently he invested in a stump grinder. He said: “My stump grinder is a Lumag. What drew me to this machine was the bill of materials (BOM). If you can buy parts for a machine relatively easily through the online hub, then for me it has to be a good bit of kit, as the company has invested heavily into spares.

“When I delved into the company and did a bit of research, I related the back end of the BOM and the parts catalogue with my time in both the oil and gas sector and the Corps. Both institutions are big believers in BOM or, in the Corps, complete equipment schedule (COM). Essentially a parts catalogue with a stock number alongside, making it easy for the user to obtain spares. As for using it, it’s an absolute weapon!”

Forestry Journal: Graeme’s ‘Oor Wullie’ pose, to go with a job carried out in Dundee, which when posted on his Facebook page led to a lot of interest about what he was doing.Graeme’s ‘Oor Wullie’ pose, to go with a job carried out in Dundee, which when posted on his Facebook page led to a lot of interest about what he was doing.

Looking to the future, Graeme feels that continuing to invest is the way forward. “We picked up our new IFOR Williams trailer in June this year so we need a truck to pull it. We are hunting for a good deal. Next year, it is a chipper on the shopping list, probably a Forst, which I feel is an awesome piece of machinery. It is British and having used a tracked one, I thought it was the most aggressive bit of plant I have seen yet. I like them in stealth black.”

Graeme’s plan for the immediate future is simply survival and then a hope that son Spencer might be able to join him on some small jobs. While it may take a few years and probably a lot of hard work, Graeme has not ruled out Spencer joining him and turning it into a proper family business. “Then he can run up the tree and I can grandstand from the comfort of my cab,” he said.

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