Voices of Forestry brings analysis and insight direct from figures across the world of tree work, from all sectors of the industry. Offering his perspective this month on the challenges and opportunities shaping the market and his own company’s approach is Kenny Brock, sales director at woodchipper manufacturer Först Global.

WE at Först straddle arboriculture and a number of related industries, including forestry, so I’m grateful to have the chance to offer some thoughts and opinions following what has been an unprecedented couple of years for manufacturers, suppliers and customers alike. 

Life at Först has certainly been a bit of a rollercoaster over the last 24 months. Despite the multiple challenges the pandemic and economic conditions have bestowed upon us, we have been able to deliver record levels of commercial success. While we and many others in the arb industry have been fortunate enough to benefit from a number of factors, which I will cover later in this piece, we truly believe the emphasis we have placed on product performance and customer service since launching the brand in 2013 have helped us survive (and indeed thrive) during a time when so many in both ours and other industries haven’t been so fortunate. 

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Like many of our customers, there has been a need for us to be agile at all times and switch priorities at short notice when necessary. The pandemic was not a time for us to hunker down and ride it out. We’ve invested heavily across the business, built a new production facility to satisfy the levels of demand we are seeing across Europe, and grown our sales area to cover 20 countries around the world. COVID gave us the opportunity to test both ourselves and suppliers from an adaptability and reliability point of view. It also uncovered a number of opportunities to upskill and cross-train team members, many of whom were, of course, working at home. 

All of this means we are coming out of the pandemic stronger than we went in. Our commitment to product and service remains stronger than ever, and we are excited for what’s to come as the world moves closer to returning to as normal as possible over the coming year. 

With all that said, we are extremely cognisant that many of those operating in arboriculture and related industries will have had it tough in recent times. Sitting down to write this piece and assess the market has given me the opportunity to consider not only the factors that have contributed to our success but also what lies ahead, and there are many reasons to be positive about the future.

As most reading this are aware, foresters and arborists across the country are being kept extremely busy with the amount of work being generated by the ash dieback problem currently impacting the UK. With around 80 million ash trees in Britain, the second most abundant after oak and birch, the scale of the issue is obvious. 22 per cent of the UK’s broadleaved woodland is ash and the spread of the disease is such that our customers are seeing unprecedented demand for ash clearance for both residential and commercial clients. This will certainly continue for the foreseeable future. 

The HS2 project is certainly keeping our rail and vegetation management customers in work, and will continue to do so until it is complete. The sheer amount of clearance associated with the project will keep many customers in regular, contracted work for several years to come. 

Without wanting to get political, the recent news column inches generated by the COP26 summit in Glasgow last year and the ever-increasing focus on the environment has supported an increase in residential arboriculture work as home and landowners alike continue to understand the importance of tree management. Coupling that with the amount of time we have all been forced to spend at home over the last two years, many of us have had time to consider and invest in our gardens in terms of managing the trees and vegetation we already have as well as planting anew.

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All of the above, plus the creation of the government’s England Trees Action Plan project with a goal to increase tree planting rates to 30,000 hectares per year and protect ancient trees and woodlands, will provide sustained levels of work for our customers on all levels. 

Another positive (certainly for us at Först) has been the adaptation to towing regulations in December. By increasing the amount of weight that can be towed on a standard driving licence to 3,500 kg MAM, our customers across all industries who have previously been limited to our smaller machines now have the ability to explore heavier, more powerful options across our entire range to support the growth of their operations and businesses. It’s certainly a decision that has divided opinion amongst arborists and beyond but, if taken advantage of sensibly, could really help those wanting to grow in 2022. 

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We are extremely positive about market conditions and opportunities for both us as a manufacturer and our customers across all industries. We have some really exciting R&D and business plans for the year, alongside the key work of supporting our customers in the day-to-day running and growth of their operations. 

DISCLAIMER: Our columns are a platform for writers to express their personal opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of the writers’ own organisations or of Forestry Journal.