THE forests of mainland Britain took a fair old battering beneath Storm Arwen at the tail end of November.

At least 4,000 hectares of woodland was affected in Scotland, and a further 1,700 hectares in North England, according to analysis of satellite imagery from Forest Research.

But members of the Forest Machine Operators Blog didn’t need a satellite to tell them how severe the damage had been. They saw it for themselves when they showed up for work.

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Forestry Journal: Colin Robertson Colin Robertson

Reports flooded in to the group of carnage in Kielder, a hammering in the Borders and thousands of tonnes down in East Lothian. They were followed by photos from despondent contractors and operators who arrived on site to find their forwarders, harvesters and excavators had been smashed and buried beneath the tumbling timber.

As one put it: “When the trees take their vengeance on their nemesis.” Not a great start to the week.

To the veterans, the scenes quickly brought to mind memories of previous storms in 2014, 1997, 1990 and even the great storm of 1987.

Forestry Journal: Craig Anderson Craig Anderson

Recalling the massive clean-up operation back then, one contractor said: “We learned a lot about root plates and tension and compression! Had the reliable 254s and 266s in those days – that would be Husqvarnas, not harvester models. Also learned a lot about jacking trees off buildings.”

As another put it: “So much for forest design. Nature always finds a way. Plenty of windblow experience for the learners, though. Good luck to you! Makes me laugh – all these anti-forestry types will be the first ones screaming to get trees off of their houses and land.”

“Looks like it’ll be a busy summer cleaning up windblow sites,” one member predicted.
But will it? This was a big concern for operators, itching to get going.

Forestry Journal: Gary Hindmarsh Gary Hindmarsh

“Does anyone think Scottish Forestry will lift the licensing of windblow for the last storm or at least make it a little less bureaucratic?” one asked. “I feel it may crash their system if all the blown sites require a licence.”

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Pessimistically, another answered: “If the Forestry Commission is up to its usual standard you’ll be waiting a long time.”

Thinking back to the ‘90s, one member was sure licensing had been lifted for blow. He said: “I asked the question two days ago and was told ‘no’. So I have started submitting applications now. To be honest, it will be better if they regulate it a bit, otherwise the market will be flooded. That said, there are only so many of us harvesting, so if we all go on to blow it’s obviously going to be a lot slower than standing timber.”

Forestry Journal: Graham Bell Graham Bell

One member made the point: “I’ve never understood why a felling licence is required for windblown trees. They’re already felled!”

While another said: “Lads, at least you can get felling licences. Come to Ireland and see the mess they have made here!”

Forestry Journal: Kieran Andrews Kieran Andrews

At the time of going to press, Scottish Forestry had acted to simplify the paperwork and fast-track felling permissions and forest management plans for areas affected by windblow, with further briefings expected.

As dramatic as the images of Storm Arwen’s aftermath appeared, it was only a few days later that a story broke of far greater magnitude.

Forestry Journal: Stuart Clark Stuart Clark

On December 3 news filtered out that Lars Bruun, legendary inventor and mechanical engineer – and the father of the modern forwarder – had passed away at the age of 87.
Lars was the brain behind the six-wheeled Bruunnett, launched in the 1960s, which became the template on which all future forwarders would be modelled. He later developed the eight-wheeled Mini-Bruunett, produced in 578 and 678 versions for many years.

Forestry Journal: Graham Dover Graham Dover

For many Blog members, these were the first forwarders they ever got behind the controls of, and they were quick to share pictures, voicing their enduring affection for the machines and the man himself.

“My first forwarder was a 1985 Bruunett,” said one. “When you think back, they were way ahead of their time. I remember being in the Timberjack factory in Filipstad, Sweden, and the lad showing us round was speaking about Lars Bruun (he had the premises out back) and joked about the mad scientist. Must have been an incredible man.”

Forestry Journal: Mark Richardson Mark Richardson

Another said: “What that man did on developing the 578 using an International 574 engine and hydrashift gearbox was unbelievable. The level of engineering and the ability to be able to even think up such a concept, let alone channel it from his brain, down and out through his hands, is an extremely rare quality. Even the braking system, where hydraulic pressure holds the brakes off and, if it fails, the brakes come on. Having closely studied his work on the 578, I can’t help but admire the man.”

Forestry Journal: Richard Spray Richard Spray

One member told the group: “Takes me back 40 years. The Bruuns changed how timber extraction was done. Great times pushing the boundaries on steep and soft ground. Loved every minute of it. I met Lars once and he was horrified by what we were doing with 578 Bruunett on the steep slopes of Loch Ness. Took a pointer and pointed out where the machine would fail. Gave a time scale for each point failing. They all did – and to the time scale! He was one of the great engineers in forestry. A privilege to meet him.”

Others also told of their encounters with Lars. “The first purpose-built forwarder I drove was a 578,” said one. “Nothing like it at the time. Spoke to him at a demo in Ae Forest and he took the time to talk. A real gent.”

Forestry Journal: Steve Hope Steve Hope

Another comment perhaps summed it up best: “Lars Bruun was a genius!”

To keep up with all the discussions, head over to the Forest Machine Operators Blog group on Facebook.