G E Saunders Ltd - Forestry Journal

forestryjournal.co.uk

G E Saunders Ltd - Forestry Journal

Harvesting HardwoodPaul Ramsay catches up with East Sussexbased operator, Graham SaundersFelling chestnut with a Viking harvestinghead is an approach GrahamSaunders would not have been pioneeringhad an unfortunate changein family circumstances not forced acareer review. Many would say it’s ajob that should be left to the handcutters if you want it done well.But, undeterred, Graham has beenbusy proving the sceptics wrong,and when Forestry Journal finallycaught up with him in the Kentcountryside, he was only too happyto demonstrate how it’s done.After settling down into thespring sunshine at Burston ManorFarm near Yalding in Kent, Grahamdescribed what he sees as the best,though sometimes the worst, partof the job. “You’re probably theonly person I’ll see up here today,”he said smiling, perched on one ofthe recently cut chestnut stumps.It was the end of a long roadfor Forestry Journal, who had beenstruggling to catch up with theEast Sussex based harvester operatorfor over a month. But the woodsweren’t where the story started forGraham. His roots lay in farming.Graham left school in the lateseventies, and by his own admissionwas no model student. “I justwanted to get on with working onthe farm,” he remembered. “Therewas a large dairy and pig farmer inmy local area and he used to takeon one student every year. I thinkhe intended us to go to college, butI wasn’t at all interested,” Grahamsmiled mischievously. Instead he setabout learning to operate all of themachinery that was on the farm andwas soon in the position where hecould use most of it.After about five years on the farmGraham got married. Sadly it didn’twork out and the ensuing periodof retrospection was what drovehim to get involved in forestry. “Iwas working with Bernard Haguesagricultural contractors at the timeand was approached in the localpub. This bloke asked if I wantedto drive his forwarder for him,”Graham remembers. “I didn’t fancyit at first as it meant going selfemployed,but I knew some friendswho were already at the companyso in the end I went for it. I neededthe change!”One of the friends already workingwith Darwell contractors wasRichard Smith, a friend that wouldcontinue to influence Graham evento the present day. “I’ve never seena harvester driver as good as him,”said Graham. “An awesome operatorwho could present the wood asif it had been hand-stacked.” Thisis praise indeed from a man whois now sought out by the ForestryCommission to tackle the trickiest ofharvesting work.By this time Graham was operatinga Valmet 873K which was anold machine made in the 70s. “Inthose days everyone still used theold gear,” said Graham. “The bossof the company, Richard Saunters,was one of the first to get fullymechanised, which back then wasquite unique. He would buy thetimber, harvest and forward it, thenForestry contractor Graham Saunders stands next to his newest machine, theValmet 921 harvester.haul it to local mills for processing. Ithink at one time he had six to eightlorries!”But in 1992, Richard Smith (whowas by now operating an old excavatorbase with Tapio 400 strokehead) and Graham were asked todo a job in Battle Great Wood forBrian Hollands of Euroforest. Brianhad only been using hand cuttersup until this point and wanted tospeed things up with a harvester. Itwas here that Richard and Grahamfirst considered going it alone.“Brian said that he’d give us allthe work if we wanted to take iton.” Not for the first time Grahamwas about to take a bit of a risk inorder to secure some work. The pairmade their break with Darwell’s andwent from strength to strength.Eventually the two grew to a groupof five, all working as independentcontractors but ultimately operatingas a team.“We got a call from EnglishWoodlands who were looking for aforwarder driver,” said Graham, “soI started to look for a new machinethat would be up to the job.” Thatmachine was a 5-year-old Lokomo910 forwarder with 11,000 hourson the clock that Graham broughtdown from Scotland. “It was a(Left) The Valmet 921 harvester is fitted with a parallel crane and a Viking 650.2 head and is capable of dealing with irregular shaped trees such as chestnut.(Right) The 921 busy working at Buxley Manor Farm in the Kent countryside.30www.forestryjournal.co.ukForestry Journal 5/09

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