WE’VE printed a lot of words about forest roads over the years – about their planning, creation, maintenance and, perhaps most frequently, about what a rotten state many of them are in.

There’s been a lot of debate about underinvestment and a general lack of appreciation for the challenges faced by hauliers and other forest workers when the roads they take to get to sites are in such poor condition.

READ MORE: Mobile and static sawmill buyer's guide 2023 for forestry

But taking a look at the state of the UK’s roads in general, should we really be surprised?

In this last month, FJ’s core editorial team has spent many hours travelling the length and breadth of mainland Britain, along winding A and B roads in Scotland, England and Wales. A lot of what we’ve encountered has been challenging, frightening, even infuriating – and we’re not the only ones to notice.

Forestry Journal: Matthew RawsthorneMatthew Rawsthorne (Image: Bites)

The issues are too innumerable to list, but on the Forest Machine Operator’s Blog this month, a contractor drew attention to one bugbear in particular.

“Bit of a rant,” he warned, “but something I’m sure you all can relate to, especially those of you in lorries.

“It doesn’t matter where you drive these days – overhanging branches are an absolute joke! Not just because of the damage they cause, but also because of where you have to position a lorry or tractor to avoid them.

“It’s not nice meeting Karen on a back road with her kids in the back, while you’re smack-bang in the middle of the road, is it? On a lot of back roads, you’re twanging branches with both mirrors at the same time!

“I get that it’s the landowner’s responsibility to cut them back, but how the hell do you put pressure on them to do it? 

“I tried recently with our local council to do a road near us and they sent a few lads with saws.They cut everything back to head height. 

“Cheers guys, I’m sure the car drivers will really appreciate that!

“I’ve seen plenty of roads over the last couple of years get completely closed off for resurfacing either before or after a lot of timber is hauled along it and sweet FA is done about the overhanging branches! Would have been the perfect opportunity, but then that would be common sense I guess.”

He went on to add: “Thankfully I’ve not smashed a mirror yet as I fitted some guards, but they’ve been folded in plenty of times.

“Had a fair few broken lights and mirrors on machines over years though, after they’ve been shifted on a low loader. Not the wagon driver’s fault really, when you’re asking them to take a machine where we work.”

Forestry Journal: William ThomsponWilliam Thomspon (Image: Bites)

There were plenty on the Blog who could sympathise.

One said: “I saw them cut back the trees on main roads around Inverness few years back with a Unimog kitted out and a squad of lads. 

“But here in Aberdeenshire I’ve only ever heard of Banchory Council telling landowners to cut back overgrowth (and that’s prior to them working on a stretch) or face a bill from them.

“They cut the verge, but it’s pointless when overhanging gorse, broom or trees are hanging down. Lately I have seen (or not, more to the point) road signs completely hidden by overgrowth. 

“I know councils are strapped for money, but surely they can send a letter to owners. 

“They do for lots of other things, or get a roads inspector to note areas and get it addressed. But as said, no common sense.”

Forestry Journal: Dermot HillDermot Hill (Image: Bites)

Another added: “I don’t get the local authorities. Round here the council-employed verge mower starts at 6am, finds a layby, then goes to sleep till 9.30. He could cut a load back in that time!”

A third chimed in: “Totally agree with you. The worst bit just down the road from me is owned by the Forestry Commission and they didn’t want to know about dead elms over-hanging an A road, let alone cutting back their trees that make a hedge. 

“I will do it myself sometime I’m that fed up with it.”

Then: “Councils are a joke! We live on a single-track back road. Lockdown worked in our favour. We did nearly five miles off our own backs with a tree shear and a saw in a manbasket. Dead money, but it doesn’t compare to the cost of mirrors and lights these days!”

As ash dieback and other diseases proliferate around the country, it could soon become a problem too dangerous for authorities to ignore, but until then, what’s a concerned tree professional to do?

Forestry Journal: Brandon MurphyBrandon Murphy (Image: Bites)

As ever on the Blog, there were plenty of people willing to offer useful information and guidance (the veracity of which we cannot comment upon).

One warned: “If you take matters into your own hands and go at it with the hedge cutter it’s classed as criminal damage unless you’ve got the owner’s written permission. Regardless of how much damage that particular tree/branch/bush has done to your vehicle.”

Said another: “There is a legal requirement that overhanging branches must be a minimum of 5.2 metres above the carriageway. 

“If you damage your vehicle by a low branch and prove it you can claim from the tree owner, but good luck with that.”

And: “Put in complaints online about every individual length of hedges or trees. 

“And get as many other people as possible to complain as well. That seems to be the only way to get action.”

Forestry Journal: Andrew PassAndrew Pass (Image: Bites)

One said: “Been across Europe a couple of times. I know the terrain is different from Scotland, but hardly a tree or bush within five metres of the verge!”

Which raises a good point. Why, when travelling abroad, does it seem so many other countries have the basics figured out? 

Things that seem to perpetually elude us here in the UK, like well-maintained roads, decent public transport and a healthy work–life balance?

Following his own recent trip to the Continent, one machine operator was compelled to post: “So I’ve just got back from a road trip in a campervan to Norway and came back through Sweden – around 2,500 miles in both countries. Bearing in mind the tree coverage and the density of forestry, I saw one pair of machines working in Norway and on the journey home over three days and 1,000 miles in Sweden I saw two machines parked in yards and not a single one working!

“I know it’s summer holiday time so get a lot are off and there was plenty of worked sites, but not a single one with produce still down or being worked? 

“Just really surprised me! Pleased the wife though, as it meant we stopped less to watch.”

Another member helpfully explained: “Sweden shuts down in summer. Virtually everyone gets five weeks’ paid holiday by law.”

Forestry Journal: Craig WhitelawCraig Whitelaw (Image: Bites)

To which a machine operator from Sweden added: “After a year with an employer you get five weeks off. 

“I started at my current employer in March of this year, so no holiday leave for me this year, but next year yes, I will take holiday and am already making plans.”

Five weeks? It could make a person ill with jealousy if they had time to think about it. Luckily we don’t as we have to get back to work!

To weigh in with your thoughts – and share some pictures of your latest exploits – seek out the Forest Machine Operators Blog on Facebook.