What is the true cost of work for forestry contractors? Amid rising prices and stagnant rates, two FCA members sat down to finally work out what it takes for the average contractor to stay in business while meeting the expected professional standards. The figures make for stark reading.

A FEW weeks ago we heard a passing comment about making cutters more professional, repeated to us from a FISA steering group meeting, the implication of which was that all cutters (and by extension anyone working on the tools) are not professional enough. Frankly, that boiled our blood.

We don’t need to go into all the reasons why that’s utter rubbish here, but it did get us thinking. What does it take to be professional in the eyes of those that make these things up? Qualifications? Experience? What about the kit you’re using? And the costs incurred to do your job?

READ MORE: Forestry: Does anyone want to work in the UK's industry?

We decided to investigate these costs further. Included in this article you will find two sets of figures, one for a self-employed cutter and one for an employee of a small business. To make the figures a bit easier to digest we have condensed them down into groups of similar items, so where it says ‘PPE’ that will include all the items you would expect – helmet, chainsaw trousers, boots, etc.

A basic tool kit will consist of everything needed to do minor repairs or servicing. The lifespan of any item will vary depending on local conditions and user maintenance, but our costings are worked out on an average we think would be reasonable to expect. We have a much more comprehensive set of figures which goes into more detail should anybody wish to see it (contact details at www.fcauk.com). 

Prices are accurate as of autumn 2022 and there could be regional variation. All figures have been based on 252 working days per annum (Monday–Friday with 20 days’ holiday and eight bank holidays) and an eight-hour working day.


Over the last few years, I have slowly whittled my essential kit down to the items I have listed in my tables. These are what I would consider to be the tools I need to get a tree over safely in most situations, excluding winch-assisted work. There are certain technical items that could be added, such as mechanical wedges or tree jacks, but many of us probably don’t need them often enough to justify the £800+ investment, and they could hardly be described as basic equipment. Even with a bare minimum list, it’s easy to see how quickly it all begins to add up. 

Savings can be made in a lot of places, especially when it comes to transport. However, for me this is at the heart of the ‘professionalising the industry’ comment I’ve heard circulating. You don’t see utility and telecoms workers driving round in 10-year-old vans and trucks using old kit or wearing cheap PPE. Most of us will be doing high mileage each year, so a new, warrantied and reliable vehicle is essential to get to site each day – plus it is one less thing to worry about. It also needs to be suitable for the site conditions. I’ve opted for a 4x4 pickup, but a van may be suitable, depending on your circumstances.

I have shown the cost for pre-mixed Aspen fuel. In the past I wouldn’t have done this, but with the introduction of E10 fuel, it has become even more relevant, not just for operator health but for machine health too. Recent price rises from Stihl and Husqvarna will have put most professional saws over the £1,000 mark.

Forestry Journal: Most professional chainsaws now cost in excess of £1,000Most professional chainsaws now cost in excess of £1,000 (Image: FJ)

All the equipment aside, how much should we be paying ourselves? If you look at jobs with similar risk factors – arborists, power/utility companies, rail workers, for example – they are in a pay bracket of £30,000–38,000 per annum, dependent on experience and years of service with the company. For an eight-hour day, 252 days a year, that would be £15.62/hr at the low end.

As a self-employed worker you have to account for the possibility of sick days. There will be costs involved in maintaining a minimum level of income during any period of illness, and possibly in maintaining cover at work. These all need to be factored in. Additionally, I would consider what percentage I need to include for breakdowns, sudden price increases and other unpredictable events.

I haven’t included insurance, because we all offer such varied services; some of us cut, some of us climb too and others drive machines here and there as well, so the combinations are endless. A reasonable ball-park figure for this would be around £500 a year for public liability. 

Forestry Journal:

Finally, just to really stir the pot, the latest FISA chainsaw planning guidance released states we should “run our business within HMRC guidelines”. So, how many of us try to do all our own book work, and how many have an accountant to help with things like VAT returns if registered? How much does this cost? I certainly have no clue, but it is a cost to be considered. One could question the methods that the big players run their businesses by – that includes the guidance publishers – but that would be unprofessional of us!



My tables are based on my own business, which has four employees covering a range of tasks – predominately establishment work (planting, chemical and mechanical weeding), but also chainsaw work and maintenance. 

The kit I have included is all good quality – picked for operator comfort and efficiency – and things I like to use or have found make the job easier. Vehicles and machinery are all new. I’ve deliberately not just gone for the cheapest of everything. Staff need to feel valued and I’ve always thought that if you need new staff, showing you offer good working conditions helps to attract good operators.

I’ve been very conservative on salary. I’m not sure £30,000 is enough, but I’ve tried to balance that with what the industry would possibly accept. It’s quite likely a higher wage would need to be offered to attract staff.

These figures are purely what it costs to put an operator on site for a day with the equipment required to work safely and efficiently. There is no profit margin calculated and the cost of a job (materials, machines and associated costs, etc) have not been considered. I have also not factored in downtime for repairs or additional spares beyond annual servicing, or sick pay.

Forestry Journal:

This is what I would choose for my business, with what my business does in mind, and is not definitive. There are things you could add/delete for your own circumstances, and I would urge you to do so. It’s an eye-opener.

A question for those of you who are employers: How many of you can afford to supply everything on that list for the rates you can get, and do so?

If we’re going to be honest with ourselves, none of us do. And apart from some of the obvious, easy things (God forbid you should forget to wear a hi-viz), a blind eye will be turned by those you contract to. It shows why corners are cut.  

It also shows how out of touch the industry is with the true cost of working. New requirements never seems to include cost, as if it can all be done for free – and then a lot of energy is expended trying to get around it just to keep the cost down as much as possible. A lot of high-profile organisations are guilty of this. Whatever happened to FISA’s Safety Before Price initiative?

Forestry Journal:

The point of this is not to argue over some of the detail, or to think you can exclude some things you may view as a luxury and therefore be able to do the job cheaper. All we are trying to do is highlight the real cost of working. We’ve based this on industry guidance of what we should have. The bigger picture here is none of us are getting paid what we should.  It’s no wonder people are leaving the industry.  

Something worth thinking about?

NOTE: The tables have had to be tweaked from their original format for online. They are available to view in the digital edition of April's magazine for subscribers or on request by emailing news@forestryjournal.co.uk