Teetering on the Edge

by Assistant Forest Manager Mike Page


For this episode of the blog I thought it might be useful to describe the various plates that I’m currently spinning and that are occupying the ‘work’ bit of my brain at the moment. On the other hand it might simply read as a stream-of-consciousness ramble of little or no value. Let’s find out.

This week I’ve mostly been in the office raising purchase orders, producing maps and risk assessments and issuing work instructions to contractors. It’s been fairly coffee and screen intensive but will stand me in good stead for next week when things actually start happening. Next week looks like this:

Monday. Into office for 0630 to load trailer and print and laminate maps for a hedge planting jobs. Leave by 0700 to miss the traffic at Perth and get to another job to introduce a fencing contractor to a ground preparation contractor. The GP contractor will spend next week clearing gorse from fencelines so the fencer can finish work, then switch to preparing the ground for tree planting. This will begin in January. I still need to call up plants, confirm the design of each compartment, confirm timings with the planting contractor and last but not least, chase the land agent for a copy of the FC contract. I’m hopeful that the week of gorse clearing will be long enough to get the contract and get on with the actual forestry bits, safe in the knowledge that we’ll get paid. I feel mildly nauseous about this project. 7/10 panic.

I’m then going to the hedging job where I’m showing the contractor where to plant and how to mix the species to produce the hedge the client wants. This job is easier and the budget is approved, but it needs to be done by the end of December and Christmas will get in the way. Panic level currently 4/10, but will rise as the deadline approaches.

Then back to the office to speak to a client about changes to his forest plan. Problem here is that the alternate areas that he want to use for his restock planting are marginal at best and besides, aren’t big enough to cover his requirements. Mild worry, but not yet at panic stations. 2/10.

Tuesday. Move to a third job to start planters working on an easy broadleaf scheme. Trees due to arrive on site on Tuesday, although presumably not by 0800 when I’m meeting the squad. Could be awkward. I’ve already delayed the start though, so don’t want to put them off again for fear I’ll lose them to another job. 5/10.

Wednesday. Another ground prep contractor is supposed to be starting on site today. He needs to prepare the site for the planters from Tuesday so that they can move seamlessly between the two jobs. He has already delayed the start twice though, and I’m not convinced Wednesday will happen. In any case, the heavy rain has rendered one of the sites unworkable so I need to move him to the safest of the three sites and pray for sunshine. In Scotland. In December. 4/10, but will rise to 8/10 as the week goes on.

Thursday. If the ground prep contractor from Wednesday is on site, I need to confirm with another, bigger planting squad that they can start the following week. They won’t want to commit unless I have a date that trees will be ready for them, but I don’t want to call up the trees (7 day lead time) unless I know the planters will be there. Catch 22 situation right there. Currently not a panic- the budget is approved and some of the ground prep was done last winter so I can at least get them on site and pray for sunshine so the prep can get finished ahead of them planting. In Scotland. In etc etc. 3/10

Friday. Off to another new job, this time felling trees in a town. I don’t need a felling licence for this so have instructed a contractor, but the contractor is not yet set up on our approved database. This needs to happen before the work starts, but this is likely to be in January so not a huge worry. Yet. Meanwhile, the local authority are asking what the clients objectives are and may choose to throw a spanner in the works which will cause delay and create friction with the client. But Friday is a full week away and a lot of it is not yet directly in my gift, so it barely appears on my worry list. 1/10

To put this in context, it’s an unrepresentatively busy few weeks before planting actually starts. At that point I merely have to deal with problems as they arise, rather than worrying about them in advance. However, for the next four months my work will be largely phone and car based, with the odd day in to catch up on orders, reports, budgets for clients for next year, site notes, safety checks and timesheets. I suspect the time will fly by.