In the latest in our A Voice from the Woods series, our insider details looming problems facing the industry. 


There’s no question I’m a technophobe. I’ve spent most of my adult life avoiding any engagement with anything related to computers or the like. I’ve managed so far to survive by relying on machines from the past to function consistently, reliably and logically, and which in return require only a modicum of grease or a twist of a spanner.

However, recent events may have brought an end to my lifelong approach as I’ve had to employ the services of a growing army of ‘specialist’ engineers.

No sooner had I finished with the assistance of an engineer regarding the generator than I had to deal with an electrical problem in the truck. Every few weeks, a warning light illuminates on the dash, indicating a problem with the ABS or Ad Blue with an instruction to visit a workshop ASAP. Once again the services of an engineer are employed. I reluctantly have to do without the wagon for several days and eventually an engineer appears. He fits a series of new parts (at great expense) which I secretly believe are completely unnecessary and – hey presto! – after a few days, the same problem occurs.

READ MORE: Voice from the Woods: November 2021

Quite frankly, I don’t need a warning light to tell me the cab is up or down or that the hand brake is on or off or that the lights are on or off.

When you think about it, it’s quite worrying to consider just how many expensive vehicles are being scrapped every day simply because they’ve been badly wired and the cost of repair exceeds their value. Besides, it’s almost impossible to find anyone with the necessary skills to repair them.

In the case of the delivery wagon, I opted to follow another tried-and-tested technique; ignore the lights. On this occasion, the approach failed as the wagon first began to lose power, then put itself into ‘limp’ mode. I now had no option other than to take it to the garage, whereupon I received another enormous bill for something that should have been fixed by the previous engineer. However, I think I’m learning. If the wagon now goes into limp mode for a problem it quite clearly doesn’t have (i.e. the cab being ‘up’, when it is quite clearly down), then I clean up all the connections and coat them with copper slip to prevent moisture from causing any problems. I also disconnect the battery to cancel the limp mode setting. These two small procedures at least slow down the haemorrhaging of cash, so that by Friday I can at least hope to see some of my earnings.

Am I alone in believing that this race to computerise and automate everything is leading to greater inefficiency and much-increased costs? As I watch the news and talk to customers, I can’t help but conclude that sooner or later our whole way of life will come to a juddering halt. Even trying to buy new and replace something you haven’t had that long doesn’t seem to work as I’ve now been waiting for a loader for six months. Again, talking to clients (which I do a great deal in the course of my job), there is a good deal of dissatisfaction with the general reliability of products set against the increased cost of the item. It’s very difficult to know what is the best way forward.

I know from talking to hauliers that they have been particularly badly affected. Finding drivers in the first place is hard enough, but if you factor in increased fuel costs, the huge increase in the price of the vehicles themselves and then their poor reliability, it all adds up to a worrying scenario. Is it wishful thinking that it would be better to return to machinery that is less complex, easier to maintain and doesn’t require a NASA scientist to carry out repairs? I look at these additions to my business and am grateful that I’ve kept the main mill simple with machinery that can be fixed and overhauled with standard, robust parts.

Forestry Journal:

This whole scenario also has a knock-on effect with training and the retention of basic skills. The rise of automation and computing seems to be running parallel with a decline in hands-on skills. 

I recently had a sawlog which broke out of the carriage when I started to saw it and on other occasions we’ve had logs with parts of harvester bars and chains embedded in them. It seems that trees which are far too big are being butchered by harvesters.

Because of this, I’m spending an increasing amount of my time cutting butt ends so that they’re square. Someone beforehand has clearly had a go, but merely succeeded in butchering the tree so that it looks as though it’s been savaged to death. By the time I’ve squared the butt off correctly, you can just about bet it’s now short and not much good if you’re trying to cut a six-metre purlin from a 5.9 log!

READ MORE: A voice from the woods: October 2021

I think, year on year, the problem is getting worse and I firmly believe that it would be much more efficient to fell the big trees with a chainsaw. I know these harvesters cost a small fortune and if they’re shedding bars and chains at the rate I suspect, the cost must be enormous. Everyone knows that hydraulic rams and crane bases will only stand so much abuse before leaks, splits and cracks begin to occur. I’d hate to be the one who has to fork out for the repair bill.

Another looming problem is that of rebated fuel or red diesel. Rebated fuel was meant to be used by farmers, forestry and for snow clearance. Rules around its use appear to have been unclear for some time. The general consensus has always been that you needed white diesel if you used a vehicle on the public highway, but I’m not sure this was ever the law as people running quarries or building sites have used red diesel, which is coming to an end in April 2022 (with exemptions for agriculture, horticulture, fish farming and forestry).

Forestry Journal:

I suggest that people investigate this rule as some of the research I’m doing is throwing up some interesting (and confusing) results.

Initially, I thought the future of my own mill would be in jeopardy as I run all the generators on red diesel and wouldn’t be able to compete if I had to switch to white. I even contemplated changing the status of the mill from ‘factory’ to ‘forestry’. Then I noticed that generators would be granted an exemption mainly because so many diesel generators are now being used as backup to wind power. I hope everyone is taking note as these new changes and rules have the potential to really affect small mills, firewood processors and other small rural enterprises. You have been warned!