At just 22, Jimmy Waters will be among the youngest forestry operators in the UK.

Currently learning his trade under his dad Clive at Waters Harvesting in Wales, we spoke to him about finding his way into the industry, and how he’s using TikTok to showcase it to audiences unfamiliar with what it’s all about.

What’s your background and how did you get into forestry?
“It’s probably the same answer everyone has. Originally, I came into forestry when I was 17 and I did a bit on the chokers and winch diggers. My main thing in life is driving – I just love driving anything. I was getting on the winch as much as I could. 

“I left forestry for two and a half years, working in a warehouse. I started back in September 2021, so just over a year and a half ago. It’s my father’s business. 

“He knew I would be good at it. I knew I would be good at it, but there is a lot to learn. Driving is the easy part for me and I can catch onto it pretty fast. 

READ MORE: Five operators under 25: The fresh faces at the heart of forestry

“But there are the other elements – stacking, diameters, logs, ground conditions – that take time.

“I started on a forwarder and was on that for about eight months. It helped me prepare for being on a harvester, I think. Which might not make sense to people but in terms of understanding the lengths, etc, it was good. Ground conditions are one of the biggest things. It’s so easy to get stuck if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Forestry Journal:

“Then I was chucked straight onto the harvester because we sold the forwarder and there was a harvester spare. I was doing two hours a day at first, which I think is the best way you can learn. My dad thought there was no point in doing an eight-hour day as I would fry myself. 

“I learned the controls and everything in two weeks. It was just fluid. He couldn’t believe it and I was quite impressed with myself.”

Where are you based? 
“It’s the border between south and mid-Wales at the Black Mountains. It’s near enough mid-Wales.”

How do you find driving the harvester? 
“Pretty straightforward. The most important thing for me is getting enough sleep in. 

“I’m up at 5am, which doesn’t sound that early but it bloody is. At my age at least! The difference between going to bed at 9pm or 10.30pm is massive. 

“I do pretty well. Soon I will be going on the eight-wheeler. We have a John Deere forwarder and Komatsu 931 and 931.1 (the six-wheeler) harvesters. 

“So I should be going onto the eight-wheeler soon from what I can gather from my dad. That will put him into an early retirement! 

“My thing is driving – cars, bikes or whatever. I thought that if it didn’t work out, I wanted to at least give it a go. If it didn’t, I wouldn’t lose so much money for my dad, as it does cost a lot to train someone up.

“Luckily, I am smashing it. My harvester is fast enough and nice enough to drive. If you had that machine on its own, it’s good enough. It’s a fair bit of kit.”

What kind of work are you doing? 
“Clearfell, mainly spruce. It’s average-sized stuff. It can be a bit patchy because of where we are working. It’s peat ground, so it’s soft. Some trees get to the light and others are just in the bog and don’t grow. There’s a bit of windblow in places and that was good to learn on. It has panned out really well for learning. 

“It has been stressful, but enjoyable. I’ve also done larch on another site.”

Has forestry always been in your life? 
“Pretty much. Dad has done it for probably 30-odd years. He started the business in the 2000s, and has always driven County tractors, forwarders, and harvesters. For the past 15 years or so, he has worked in harvesting. I couldn’t have had anyone better to learn from. Anyone who knows him will know he can drive.

“Funnily enough, I actually didn’t know much about forestry before I started. I’m still quite young and I didn’t really ask about it. I knew my dad was working on the machines, I knew what they looked like and what they did, but there is so much more to uncover. But it does give you a headstart to be in a forestry family. 

“I get people asking me on TikTok how I got into it. And I explain there are two ways; if you know someone with a machine, they might take you on. Or you have to pay thousands and go and train on courses.”

What do you enjoy about the industry? 

Forestry Journal:

“The number-one thing is driving something. It’s a good responsibility to have. It is something different and you can talk about it. People are always asking me and there are some who are not going to be interested. Most people are genuinely interested and do like to learn about it.

“One day I would like to organise something that takes all my mates up the forest and show them what it is. Most of them would do it and want to see how it works

“Every video I show people gets a reaction like: ‘Holy s***! Look at that! What’s that creature?’

“It’s different to a regular job and I just love driving things.

“The views are always so nice. You appreciate the scenery a lot more when you are up in the middle of nowhere. You end up at these places you don’t know exist – it’s unreal.” 

When you speak to people about your work, what’s their impression of the industry?
“If you speak to a random person, they are going to have no idea where their wood comes from. They just see a timber lorry with wood on it and won’t think beyond it. They just know where it is going.

“The main thing people will think about is a chainsaw. Everyone knows what a saw is. 

“Apart from me showing them, they don’t really know what it is, how it works, or where their wood comes from. Their impression is usually that they don’t know how it works.

“When my videos appear on people’s ‘for you’ page on TikTok, I do get random questions because people just don’t have any idea. Most people haven’t even seen a machine like these before.”

Why did you set up the TikTok (@jimmytrees)?

@jimmytrees Only way to describe it is 20T on play-doh with a few sticks on top. 🗿 #forestry #forest #wood #satisfying #fyp #fypシ ♬ original sound - Jimmy Trees

“On Instagram it would be quite hard to do something like this but TikTok is perfect. It’s not easy – you need to have stuff that is unique. I just wanted to do it to see how many views I would get and who would be interested in it. It’s just about showcasing it. 

“It’s doing much better than I was expecting. You can do different edits and angles. You can literally put anything on there or speak about anything.

“I wanted to showcase how it all works. No one knows, let’s be honest.” 

What has the reaction been like to your videos? Have you noticed it has helped people to learn more about forestry?
“There are a lot of people who are in farming or something similar who can relate. That happened a lot on a John Deere one where the machine got stuck.

“On others, people are asking what RPM the chain goes at and stuff like that. There are some answers I don’t really know but I try my best. 

“People are learning just from watching the videos in general, even without me saying anything. The response has been pretty good.” 

As a relative newcomer, what kind of place do you think the industry is in? What could we be doing better?
“Good question. I’m not really sure, but I think the rates per tonne should be better from what I can gather. If you don’t have a brand new machine, I have seen how much stuff people are going through. Even a wee sensor is like £200–300 and that knocks a massive chunk off your profits.

“Everyone knows the rates should be better because no one has made any money in the last year, at least from what I have heard. Maybe up in Scotland, because there is more of it.

“As for the industry in general, I would say it could be worse!” 

How could we attract more young people into forestry? 
“I feel like I should know the answer but I can’t put my finger on it. It’s an expensive thing to host an open day or something. 

“At the Royal Welsh Show there used to be a lot of forestry stuff and you’d get people interested, having a look at it all. But spreading awareness costs so much money. 

“There are a lot of young people who go into forestry management etc with the NRW. It’s good money and more known about.

“Otherwise it is a hidden industry and I can’t put my finger on why – or how you can spread it. Social media works but are people going to jump out and do it when they look at the courses and see the costs? Young people won’t have that kind of money. 

“It’s a tough question. Maybe we need to start taking people out to the woods or flying them to Sweden or something. Something that will catch people’s imagination.”