COUNTY Antrim-based M. Large Tree Services is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. In that time, the company has grown from a sole trader to one of the UK’s largest suppliers of new and used forestry machinery.

Founded in 1970 by Michael Large, the firm primarily did smaller-scale private felling jobs before quickly diversifying into tree surgery as there were very few tree surgeons in Northern Ireland at the time.

 “I was always very innovative and had good engineering skills so was always looking for ways to be more efficient. We brought the first brushwood chipper, a Junkkari, into the country in 1981 and were recycling 100 per cent of our wood for horticultural or fuel use,” Michael told Forestry Journal.

“Also, in 1984 we bought our first firewood processor from Richard Slatem and have seen firewood sales increase steadily ever since. Today we sell about 3,000 cubic metres of seasoned firewood annually. In the same year, our first sawmill was installed, and we began to mill timber from our tree work jobs.”

By the 1990s, M. Large employed 40 full-time staff, including tree surgeons, surveyors and ancillary staff. It also became the first Arboricultural Association-approved contractor in Ireland in 1990.

“We were working for almost all the public bodies in Northern Ireland and also customers in the Irish Republic. A substantial part of our business was surveying, mostly for our Planning Service who by then were protecting more trees by placing TPOs, which until then had been few and far between.”

He continued: “In 1995 we began using and selling Greenmech chippers and this relationship has continued to this day. Realising that there was an increasing requirement for forestry and woodfuel equipment, we began importing and distributing a range of equipment including Hakki Pilke firewood processors, Thor log-splitters, Farmi, BMF, Palms cranes and trailers and many other brands throughout the UK and Ireland.

“Over the following years we diversified into other areas including crane hire, road haulage and warehousing. We also bought another large arboricultural company, increasing our staff numbers to around 80 at that time.”

Forestry Journal: Michael Large.Michael Large.

Michael has seen a number of changes in the industry over the past five decades, particularly with regard to skills shortages and health and safety.

“It has proved difficult to sustain large numbers of tree surgeons and currently we find it easier to employ small sub-contractors for some of our work as an owner operator is often more efficient when completing jobs,” Michael explained. “I believe the days of large tree companies directly employing scores of workers may be gone.”

One partial solution for M. Large was to mechanise as much as possible, Michael said.

“We have always had a good range of plant, including radio-controlled truck cranes, and use these extensively during tree work operations. Tracked and rough-terrain cherry pickers are used daily, but these bring their own problems. I am not certain, but I believe more operatives have been killed or injured here by inappropriate use of this equipment than using conventional climbing methods. We use tree shears on both rubber ducks and tracked excavators where possible and this has without doubt increased productivity, as well as safety.

“Our own brand, LMS, which is manufactured in Northern Ireland, has proved popular since its introduction 15 years ago. In order to counter the lack of skilled tree surgeons and, more importantly, reduce the requirement for climbing trees, we introduced grapple saws a few years ago. We have them mounted on truck cranes and large roto-telescopics. Our latest Merlo 4030 can reach 30 metres up into a tree, cut off sections up to 500 mm diameter and set them on the ground, all while the operator is safely in his climate-controlled cab or conveniently situated using radio control.”

In recent years, Michael observed a demand for locally grown timber from both professional users and hobbyists, and M. Large made the decision to upgrade its sawmill to cater for this new market. He said: “Everyone was looking for wide and unusual boards so last year we decided to upgrade our sawmill to cater for this new market. Being familiar with most equipment available, we decided to install a Zenz horizontal mill capable of very accurate cutting with logs up to 1.6 m x 1.4 m diameter. This is the first Zenz in the UK and was chosen after a visit to the Zenz factory in Germany.”

Reflecting on the momentous milestone, Michael added: “I now have children and grandchildren working in the company and feel very privileged to have made it to 50 years in business.”