A long-term focus on efficient, safe and high-quality work and continued investment in its people and machinery has proved a winning combination for the East Devon-based tree surgeon.

A job involving tree climbing, chainsaws and big machines is a dream that many children would have growing up, and Simon Hart of Hartwood Treeworks in Devon has proved with hard work and determination your childhood dreams can sometimes come true!

Over the past 21 years, Simon has built up a successful and well-respected business that is focused on efficient, safe and high-quality work from both its people and its machinery.

Forestry Journal: Excavator on site.Excavator on site.

Starting with just the basics – a few years’ experience, a £300 Ford Escort van, a climbing kit, basic rigging kit, a ground saw, top-handled saw and PPE – Hartwood Treeworks has evolved into the thriving business it is today. With his wife Jen running their busy office, Simon’s days are rarely the same and can include pricing and planning of work, running sites, machine work, working with the teams on the tools or on one of the many emergency call-outs that the company deals with.

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Work for Hartwood Treeworks is busy and varied. From regular work for Highways, to large clearance works, to seed collecting for the Kew Gardens seed bank project, to clearance works on MOD explosives sites, to milling and building a 40-seat picnic bench from a windblown oak, its list of clients includes Devon Highways, the National Trust, the Devon Wildlife Trust, Devon County Council and Natural England, as well as many housing/construction clients and domestic customers.

Forestry Journal: The Merlo Roto – the newest addition to the Hartwood fleet.The Merlo Roto – the newest addition to the Hartwood fleet.

Using skilled staff along with a fleet of specialist machinery has proved to be a successful combination, with Hartwood Treeworks having an extensive loyal client base plus a good working relationship with many of the other tree work companies in Devon and the south of the UK, who they happily supply operated plant or sub-contract works to. As with many companies, social media is an important marketing tool, and the company’s Facebook and Instagram pages are regularly updated to show jobs completed or vacancies available.

Currently employing 11 members of staff, Simon is keen to invest in and develop the people who work for him. “At the moment, we pretty much just have fully employed staff. We still use sub-contractors for specialist services like consultancy and ecology and have used subbies plenty in the past, working with some awesome climbers, but we’ve also really struggled with it at times. I want to invest in people and make them the best they can be and in return they work for us for the long term and keep our standards high. I also believe that people that work together every day, using the same machines and knowing exactly how we all work will make for the safest and most efficient works.”

Forestry Journal: Some of the Hartwood team.Some of the Hartwood team.

With machinery being used more and more in arboriculture and companies looking to invest in equipment, Hartwood Treeworks has already established itself as a specialist in this area. Simon explained his reasoning for using and investing in large machinery: “I’m hugely committed to the use of machines; anything that makes things easier or safer for us. We started with older machines and worked hard with them, looked after them and then, when we know they are working and earning money, traded up for newer machines. So much of the guidance now from HSE and the Arb Association points to the use of machines and minimising working at height and manual handling where possible.

Forestry Journal: Hartwood’s crane at work.Hartwood’s crane at work.

“I think the main benefits for us are safety and productivity, which are hugely important to me. For example, on a large ash dieback site, a skilled four-man team with, say, a roto and grapple saw, excavator and grab, crane-fed chipper and tractor, trailer and front loader timber grab will do hugely more than a much, much bigger team without machines. Also, using machines nearly always puts operatives in protected cabs and minimises things like exposure to manual handling and vibration.

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“There are much bigger machines available than we’ve chosen to invest in but it’s about finding a set-up that works best for us. Devon generally has lots of smaller roads and limited access, plus we do a lot of single lane closure jobs, so huge machines often aren’t that workable for us.

Forestry Journal: On a call-out for Devon Highways.On a call-out for Devon Highways.

“The negatives of using machines are a machine is really only as good as the operator and the risk assessments and method statements for the machines. For that reason, we only have qualified, skilled operators for any machines we use, and we have developed the risk assessments and method statements for the machines with some of the very best health and safety support available.”

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With a growing fleet of machinery, including chippers, excavators plus a range of attachments, tractors plus implements, stump grinders, a robot with forestry mulcher and grass flail, MEWPs and a roto telehandler with grapple saw or a 37-metre MEWP, Simon’s commitment to working to the highest standards on every job, whether large or small, has earned him an enviable reputation with both clients and staff alike.

Forestry Journal: Part of the Hartwood fleet.Part of the Hartwood fleet.

Striving to be the best it can be led Hartwood Treeworks to gain Arb Association Approved Contractor (AAAC) status in 2018. Simon explained: “I’ve always ensured our work is to the right standards and we are very fortunate that my wife runs our office and paperwork side of things to the same standards making AAAC and the other accreditations achievable to us. I think being AAAC brings professional credibility and I’ve found the Arb Association supportive if we’ve ever needed anything from them.” They have just gained Construction Line Gold accreditation to add to the AAAC, as well as CHAS, ACDC, Trustmark and SSIP.

As for the future, Simon concluded: “I’m always keen to keep learning and developing things, continuing to improve our set-up mechanically, further investing in people and machines. We are very fortunate to have just got planning permission at our yard, which will allow us the space we need to include storage, staff facilities, workshops and offices, as well as greatly improved recycling for timber and chip. Finally, I really need to say a big thank you to all our guys and girls that make this possible for us – Jen, Chip, Deano, Jamie, Alex, Tom, Matt, Dan, Chantal, Charlie and Trevor – your hard work and commitment are very, very much appreciated.”

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