After recovering from a bout of winter sickness, our jobbing young forester has been touting for work.

FOR the first time in a very long time – possibly even since I was attending school – I was forced to do something very difficult: I had to phone in sick!

Admittedly the reasons in my school days were much more spurious and contrived.

However, I haven’t had a cold for years and due to the nature of my work, being outdoors and with little human contact, I was somewhat taken aback at its severity.

Whatever it was certainly had me by the short and curlies and for a week I awoke each day with the equivalent of a stinking hangover but without the pleasure of having consumed an appropriate amount of beer the night before. The coughing and spluttering at first light reminded me of an old Cat bulldozer I used to drive as a teenager; the persistent production of choking phlegm resembling the leaking hydraulics. Round here they call it ‘the 100-day cough’ and for anyone else who has suffered the same strain and managed not to miss a day on the saw – you’re a stronger man than me!

On my day of absence I was faced with dressing out dirty, dry, oversized Sitka in a steep ravine while knee-deep in clarts. Fortunately I wasn’t at the Battle of the Somme, but from the photographs I’ve seen the poor troops had to fight in an ocean of mud and I’m sure every forestry worker up and down the country will be familiar with this description. I’ve managed to keep on top of trench foot with the extensive use of talcum powder, although looking ahead I do wonder what the long-term effects of constant emersion will have on my health. I have this terrifying vision of me as an old man hobbling along the aisles in some future supermarket chain, struggling to reach for a chocolate mousse on account of my damaged knees. In my dream I fall to the floor sobbing and cursing the clay I spent most of my life in.

The day before I was due to start, my head was pounding and I had blurred vision. I struggled with the simple task of pouring fuel into the chainsaw, let alone discing firewood. Accepting that I was in no fit state to do anything, I reluctantly picked up the phone. “I’m absolutely goosed,” I explained and asked if it was okay to delay the job for a week. Owing to the nature of the contract a sick note was required, but I spent the rest of that day letting cups of tea go cold and catching up on three editions of Forestry Journal.

They say that what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, which is just as well as about two weeks after Christmas people emerge from their festive malaise and the phone starts to ping. Fortunately, after enough Earl Grey to fill a small pool and multiple letters from the editor I felt suitably rejuvenated to resume the challenges ahead.


This period of time usually coincides with a demand from those around me for work which I put down to an agricultural lull and the January income tax demand. Just lately I’ve employed the skills of qualified forestry professionals on a short-term basis. These are the types of individuals you can leave on a task for the day and nothing goes drastically wrong. These guys are keepers and I need to find sufficient work to retain their services. This was my next task. Postcards in the sweet shop window no longer work, so I turned to social media with the following notice:

“I’m looking to take on more work in and around Northumberland for February and March for myself and an experienced work force. Tree planting, mobile firewood processing and wholesale kindling (I do not sell firewood, climb trees or perform any kind of tree surgery other than lopping them off at the base).

“Tree planting: All types considered. Hedging, staking and tubing and restocking sites. I have over 10 years of experience planting in northern and southern counties for a wide range of contractors.

“Mobile firewood processing: I’ll convert your timber into firewood that you can then sell or burn. No timber too difficult. Arb waste, oversize, full trees and felling. With a mobile splitter and experienced chainsaw operators, we quickly and efficiently produce firewood. All chainsaw operators are fully ticketed and competent commercial forestry hand cutters with experience in all ranges of felling and processing (thinnings, clearfells, hard and softwoods).

“Wholesale kindling: If you require kindling in bulk I can offer the best prices on a wide variety of nets and custom sizes to suit requirements.

“ANY ENQUIRIES... please feel free to get in touch through contacts provided.”

As with anything to do with Facebook, the moment you stick your head over the parapet you receive a volley of criticism, abuse and nonsense. It’s back to the Battle of the Somme analogy again, sitting in the trench and watching the bullets pass overhead. Surprisingly, while I did receive a lot of criticism, abuse and nonsense (do these people have nothing better to do?) I also received a lot of positive leads in all three categories and close to home.

The photos I used in my advertisement regarding the planting were taken from a joint job I did with Kevin Longbottom. The pictures displayed precision staking, which is a feature of Kevin’s work, but I applied the tubes to an equally high standard. With many new jobs in the pipeline the skill now is to identify the ones to avoid. One in particular stood out. This involved an elderly gentleman (a lord in fact) whom I’ve had dealings with in the past and whom I find particularly difficult to work with. I’ve done several fairly straightforward jobs for him like planting and tidying, but it all ended on a sour note as we agreed to disagree over certain things.

He wouldn’t pay my invoice in full and so became blacklisted and I was happy to leave it at that. I assume he’s the same with everyone and so, unable to find anyone else, he’s been back in touch. I’ve had voicemails, emails, calls and I’m expecting a carrier pigeon at any moment.

I do struggle to return calls during the week, even to those I want to work for, but on this occasion the old dog outfoxed me. He got his housekeeper to leave me a message on her phone with the promise of substantial planting work. I eventually returned her call but who should answer but the fantastic Mr Fox! I don’t suppose you get to 97 without picking up a few sly tricks along the way. After he agreed to honour his outstanding balance, I’ve agreed to take out a few Scots pines. He’s not my favourite customer, but I can’t help but admire him.

An ongoing system I’ve been developing over the past few years on the kindling front is to get them dry. Selling kindling rather than firewood comes with a few advantages. In the north of England you’re never far from a softwood clearfell where larch bars are available to feed the Kindlet and clean sawlogs are just a phone call to Scottish Woodlands away to feed the Splitta 400. It takes fewer tonnes of timber to make a living out of kindling and a lot less time to dry a kindling stick than a log.

Forestry Journal: Our young forester has been touting his best work Our young forester has been touting his best work (Image: FJ/DG)

Fortunately, a large proportion of my wholesale kindling customers are happy to take the nets from the machine and put them through their own kilns, which greatly reduces the handling aspect on my part. I don’t have a kiln and don’t intend to purchase one. Yes, it would be handy but I can’t justify paying for something which the wind does for free. The smaller you split the kindling, the quicker it dries, but no-one wants a bag of matchsticks and the bigger you split the more nets you fill in an hour. I’ve found that exposing a loose filled net to a dry westerly wind will reduce the moisture content to below 20 per cent in a week. With reasonable stocks and even doubling or trebling that time allows for a fairly quick turnaround and I find it’s all about maximising air flow while minimising the ground space. I don’t have a lot of ground space, so I have multiple piles of kindling varying in colour and size surrounding my house and probably annoying passing hikers.

I produce four different sizes of nets and they all stack in different configurations in order to maintain air flow, ridged sufficiently so as not to keel over. I have one size of net that makes a particularly sturdy tower which I’ve managed to stack to 13 feet before I ran out of ladder and got a bit nervous. As long as you can get a tarp to cover them, I suppose the sky’s the limit. Maybe I need a longer ladder!