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Digger Man Blog

by Nick Drew  |  Tue 11 Feb 2020

A Cut Above the Rest

A look back at another previously published Earthmovers article, bringing it to life on the internet with alternative photos.

For over 20 years forestry operative David Funnell has been engaged in the arduous tasks related to forestry work which includes hand cutting, brush cutting and the felling of trees. These operations invariably involve a lot of back breaking hard work and long hours spent out in all weathers, by Davidís own admission in recent years he has been starting to feel it, but as someone who clearly has a passion for his work he was not prepared to give up the career he loves and began to ponder about ways to make the work easier and bringing the job into the 21st century.

A Cut Above the Rest

With this in mind David had a discussion with Andrew Wright who is the Forestry Director for David’s employer’s, East Sussex based, English Woodlands Forestry. Both of them agreed that there must be a more modern, mechanised and ultimately more productive way of dealing with this type of work, most of which focuses on the clearing out of non-native species of plants in conservation areas, in particular the rhododendron plant, which can be very damaging due to its prominence to cast heavy shade on the immediate surroundings in addition to its soil acidification affect which can prevent other plants from growing. It is also linked to the dreaded phytophthora infections in larch and oak trees, so its control is very important.

Previously the cutting down of the rhododendron plant was performed with men and hand cutting tools, removing as much root as possible and burning the cuttings, followed by the spraying of an herbicide to the re-growth some 18 months later. This was hard labour-intensive work so both Andrew and David agreed a machine was needed to take on the task and the search for a suitable piece of kit commenced.

Andrew identified the opportunities that a tracked compact skid steer loader with low ground pressure capabilities fitted with a mulcher attachment could offer as a primary tool and as they are located close by to local JCB dealer Haynes Agri Tec in Uckfield, a demonstration of the British manufacturers, Savannah, Georgia built, 352T Forestmaster skid steer variant was arranged.

Talking about the decision Andrew said, “I did some extensive research on a number of different machines and also considered mini-tractors similar to alpine tractors, which are used for similar applications, but I concluded they would not be robust or powerful enough to produce the outputs we desired. Once the skid steer option had been identified I looked at three manufacturers, Bobcat, Caterpillar and JCB, all of which we had out on demo/hire at some point in the Feb-July period of 2017, JCB became our favourite option for the following reasons”.

“It’s a British product, even though its made in the USA, from a safety perspective we like the side entry to the cab, which means no need to climb over the attachment to get in and the forestry guarding around the machine all came as standard, we also discovered that the JCB had vastly improved visibility and offered a larger and more comfortable cab environment for the operator. Add to this the winch came as standard and the offer of an extended warranty and it was something of a no brainer for us as a business”.

English Woodlands Forestry’s clients are private country estates, traditional landowners, farmers and private investment lifestyle woodland owners and it was on one of these conservation areas that we caught up with man and machine.

The main task on this job involved mulching down to ground level to form a flat area, which in turn would encourage the growth of gorse and other natural plants to flourish, in addition to attracting more wildlife.

Talking about the job and his new mount David said, “Most forestry works these days is conservation focused and its this type of work that is the JCB’s primary role in the business. We only took delivery of the machine in November last year but its already proving its worth reducing the time it takes to do the job, we generally expect to clear at least a hectare a day with the Forestmaster, a bit less in awkward areas with lots of stumps which can be tricky at times”.

“So far, the JCB has proven to be a fantastic bit of kit and I am really impressed with what can be achieved with it, the most important features to me as the operator are the side entry door, this is so much better than any other makes we tried out, who in their right mind would want to climb over the attachment to access or egress the cab, especially when you consider how long it takes the mulcher to stop spinning! The cab is a great place to spend my days, fully air-conditioned with an extremely comfortable seat and the added bonus of a radio, it’s just fantastic! As Andrew mentioned the side mounted boom set up offers me 60% better all-around visibility compared to other makes, both Andrew and I felt the cab interior is larger than on other makes and JCB told us their cab is actually up to 33% larger than other tracked skid steer models, however it is that they measure such things”.

Clearly delighted with his new machine, if the smile on his face was anything to go by, David was keen to show us around his shiny new steed.

Starting at the back, the cross member that is home to the 15,000lb capacity American built WARN recovery winch, is released and swings out to the right, allowing the heavy duty all steel rear engine canopy door to open out to the left to reveal the heart of the machine in the form of JCB’s own EcoMAX T4i/ Stage 3B engine, which produces 74hp (55kw) @2400rpm. Especially important in this application is the fact that the machine requires no exhaust gas after-treatment so vastly cuts down on any risk of fire from wood chip coming into contact with a hot DPF system. All the daily and routine maintenance points are easily accessible from the rear, but for more complex repairs, the whole cab can be tilted forward to allow access to deeper components. A reversing fan helps to keep debris build up on the cooling system down to a minimum. The aforementioned winch has already proven its worth, not from a bogged situation, but it has been used to tow out fallen timbers in a skidder style operation, its proven to be a great tool in the machines arsenal!

This machine is also road legal and built into the rear door are tail and indicator lights which are protected from the hazards of the forestry game by mesh covers 

The all-important air-conditioned cab is isolation mounted and features a fully adjustable suspension seat to ensure operator comfort whatever size they are. The operator is well protected in his cocooned environment with heavy duty steel mesh on both sides of the cab, David has had these modernised so they can be removed easily for cleaning of the windows. A level 2 FOPS roof guard is also fitted as is guarding around the rear roof mounted air-con unit and working lights, an even stronger steel exhaust guard was fabricated and fitted by the dealer Haynes Agri Tec to the customers specification. The machine is controlled by two servo joysticks with the left-hand side controlling travel direction and steering, with the left taking care of the boom lift and carriage tilt, throttle options of hand or foot are available in the cab for whatever the operator prefers to use. A bullet proof front windscreen is fitted with the only downside being a windscreen wiper cannot be fitted whilst this screen is in place.

The innovative JCB PowerBoom design on these machines really is a stroke of genius and its really quite incredible that virtually no other manufacturer has gone down this route, with the exception of Volvo whose models are badged up machines. Those who think it might not be as strong will be surprised to hear that according to the manufacturer the single-sided reinforced boom is actually constructed from 20% more steel than competitive twin arm designs.  

Ride on tracked skid steers are so much more comfortable for the operator compared to their wheeled counterparts and the 325T Forestmaster features JCB’s Smoothride System (SRS) which allows the boom to effectively float when travelling across rough terrain, something that David encounters quite a lot on his jobsites. The machine features a variable displacement piston pump hydraulic system and this high flow system which is capable of delivering 125 litres per minute enables the machine to handle demanding attachments like the Spanish built Serrat T1800 mulcher head which was supplied by forestry machinery expert Justin Kingwell. As one would expect for a machine working in environmentally sensitive areas, biodegradable oils are used throughout.

This machine sits on 450mm (78”) rubber tracks with the undercarriage featuring cast steel triple-flanged rollers, the idea behind the rubber tracks is to cause minimal damage to the ground or paved surfaces but one would imagine you would have to be careful around stumps. Steel tracks with track guards could be an option but the rubbers are a good compromise. The machine features two speed tracking and from what we saw on the day is a very lively beast in operation. The lasting impression I took away from this site visit was that the JCB 325T eco is a compact but powerful piece of kit that clearly punches well above its weight!

Summarising operator David said, “The Forestmaster is just a fantastic addition to our company, its making things so much easier every day, it’s also very reassuring to know that should there be a problem, we have the support of a great and long-established dealer Haynes Agri Tec right behind us for peace of mind”.

English Woodlands Forestry

English Woodlands Forestry’s heritage can be traced back to a number of forestry companies that emerged in post WWII, 1950’s Britain, as national forest industries were booming.

Oakover and Wealden Woodlands were two of these companies providing management services across Kent and Sussex in the late 1940’s early 1950’s. In the mid 1960’s the two companies merged to become English Woodlands Ltd. In 1986, the two operating Directors, Hugh Gent and George Marchand, bought the Cocking sawmill business incorporating as English Woodlands Timber Ltd, creating a sister timber company. 

As English Woodlands forestry services declined in the 1990’s due to a diminishing market, English Woodlands Timber Ltd started providing forestry management services through the current Managing Director Tom Compton.  Since then forestry management aspect within the company has steadily grown and they have established an excellent reputation in the sector. The forestry management services part of the business has continued to grow to the point that in 2015 English Woodlands Forestry Ltd became a separate company focussed on the delivery of professional and operational woodland management in Sussex, Surrey, Kent and Hampshire. 

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