James and the Giant Chipper - Extreme Vegetation Clearance!

Posted by James Edwards on 27/01/2016

Ecosulis where tasked with the removal of 70 large conifer trees as part of a housing development in Tetbury, Gloucestershire. The project would involve two men on the ground with chainsaws, an excavator with tree shears and a Dutch Dragon Chipper. The trees would be dismantled using the tree shears and the timber chipped to be used as mulch at a later date.

I arrived on site at 8am to see the progress from the previous day. Martyn (Ecosulis’ chief forester) and the 21 tonne excavator with a tree shear head had managed to remove the limbs from half of the tree line, leaving only some rather tortured stems and huge pile of brash.

My previous experience of arboricultural work comprised clear-felling and ditch management on the Somerset Levels and a short period of time with a leading tree surgery company in the Bristol area. However, I had never worked with forestry machinery and I was very excited to be doing so for this project.

My excitement turned to apprehension as I walked along the tree line and saw the excavator and tree shear head. Very soon after I realised that my learning curve for the day could be very steep. Luckily, after a chat with the excavator operator, Phil, I felt a lot better. He had over twenty years experience in forestry and told me what he expected of me and more importantly were I should stand to be safe. Martyn also made sure I’d read and understood the health and safety method statement and that I was familiar with all that would be involved. I was feeling a lot better! 

Eventually, after much coughing and spluttering, and a bit of swearing, I managed to start my chainsaw and got on with clearing the limbs from the base of the trunks. It felt good to be using a chainsaw again: the heat, the smell of chain oil and of course wood chip everywhere! One of my tasks would be to remove the limbs from the sheared trunks that would not go into the chipper in one go. However, some of these off-cuts were the size of a small tree and took a lot of effort to remove. For the rest of the day Phil and I worked our way along the tree line reducing the trees to the stem. When I had time I would go back along the line cutting a step-cut into the base of the stem ready to be lifted up and removed safely by the tree shears. Reduced light meant that some trees would have to wait until the next day.

I arrived on site the following morning to see an extra bit of kit. The Dutch Dragon Chipper had arrived! It was huge! At around 20m long and weighing 40t fully laden it is a very impressive piece of kit – the chipper alone is powered by a 550hp engine!

The morning of day two was spent removing the final three trees. One of which was next to a busy main road and a telegraph pole. Our risk assessment had determined that the pole and corresponding cables did not pose a problem, as the branches of the tree did not interfere with them. However, the majority of the weight was on the opposing side of the tree and therefore over the road and posing a potential hazard. Once safety signage and exclusion zones were marked out, the lower limbs were removed using a chainsaw and a rope to aid in the felling direction and the limbs we couldn’t reach safely were removed with the tree shears, leading eventually to a successful and safe fell. Whilst all this was going on the chipper was easily working its way through the pile of brash. The rest of the day was spent preparing the stumps for grinding and tidying the site.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the giant chipper. My learning curve was steep but enjoyable and I gained a lot of experience from the project. So much so, that I am looking forward to the next project of this kind.