HELL hath no fury like a contractor scorned. 

You may have been there yourself. It’s the days after finishing a long, complicated job, where tree after tree has been safely and expertly felled. It should be the time to put your feet up, enjoy a cuppa – or, likely, something stronger – and think about how you’ll spend your hard-earned cash. But more often than we’d like, the hard work is only just beginning. 

Disputes over payment and contracts are nothing new to forestry. For as long as man has chopped down trees for timber, another has tried to butt in and snatch the fruits of his labour. 

Forestry Journal: Brian Weaver Brian Weaver

An interesting development of the internet age is the prevalence of social media, which allows forestry’s close-knit community to share issues when arguments arise. When a client misbehaves, word can travel fast.

That was the case last month on the Forest Machine Operators Blog when one member told of a recent ordeal – and what an ordeal it was. 

For complicated legal reasons – the main ones being we like our job and don’t like being sued – we’ll have to keep it light on the details, but the operator’s dispute went roughly as follows. 

Forestry Journal: Jim Keogh Jim Keogh

After weeks of being asked, he reluctantly agreed to harvest several hundreds of tonnes of timber in the grounds of a popular holiday resort. That mammoth total ended up being double what had been originally agreed with the site owner and already had alarm bells ringing; they could soon be heard across the land when it came time to ask for payment.

In his first post, the member wrote: “After agreeing we could have the timber as payment, they have now told us we cannot take it and they won’t pay.” 

Others were quick to offer advice.

“Did you have a contract in place?” one asked. “Or something in writing you could use to prove what was agreed? Generally speaking if you have acted reasonably and completed the works you can recover via county court.”

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Another suggested: “Might be worth going down the county court route and waiving your right to anonymity so they will be named as well. The bad publicity that would come from it might just be enough to force a settlement. Remember, that timber is getting lighter. You are no longer interested in taking it.” 

While members continued to discuss the best long-term approach to find a solution, others hatched a cunning plot to get their own back. 

Forestry Journal: Stephen Byrne Stephen Byrne

“Posting bad Google reviews would be a good place to start,” said one member. In the dog-eat-dog world of hospitality, where reputation counts for so much, it might well have an impact, but surely we want to keep our hands clean of such dirty tactics?

In any case, the contractor was soon back to report the timber was now being sold off by the site owners. “Don’t get your pants pulled down,” he warned, as he urged local sawmills to avoid the wood like the plague.

But what to do about the timber? “Why not get a mate to say he will buy it then move it to the mills and don’t pay him?” suggested one member. 

Maybe a cunning plan, but there’s an obvious catch. 

“It means getting other people involved,” said the original poster. “Don’t want him knocking on someone else’s door because they did the haulage, forwarding, etc, if you know what I mean.”

Forestry Journal: Matthias Bieder Matthias Bieder

An alternative plan: “Just invoice him like others have said and make sure on invoice in terms and conditions that timber remains the property of yourself until invoice is paid in full. Then contact all the mills he’s likely to sell to and agents that buy and sell, so no one will deal with him.”

“Surely you are known at the mills?” one member asked. “Send in word to them or better yet their timber buyer. Invoice him and in the small print add that all timber on the ground remains yours until the amount on the invoice is paid in full. Send a copy of that to the timber buyers.

Forestry Journal: William McGhee William McGhee

“It effectively makes it illegal for him to sell it. It’s a long shot but it might just throw a spanner in the works. You have nothing to lose.” 

A few weeks later, the contractor offered an update. 

“The owner has tried quite a few sawmills, merchants and timber contractors to sell the roadside timber we were promised for doing his site clearance,” he wrote. “As far as I am aware my Facebook post on this and other groups is doing its job.

“Massive thanks to anyone who has turned down the timber and keep up the good work. It’s good that you fellas are standing strong.” 

There may be further twists ahead, but for the moment it looks like underhanded schemes on the part of the site owner have been scuppered, proof of what happens when forestry operators stick together. 

Forestry Journal: Krzysztof Debski Krzysztof Debski

That sense of community really came to the fore in recent weeks, especially in another sorry saga that hit the pockets of blog members. This time it was timber – stolen timber, to be precise – and a warning. 

“The estate that I am currently working on had a load of larch chip 3 m stolen,” a member wrote. “Just want to make this public to make people be aware.”

That’s the last thing anyone needs, as one member summed up: “As if the job’s not hard enough to then lose stock is beyond a piss-take!”

You don’t need us to remind you, but please take care out there. Always keep an eye out for suspicious activity. Though perhaps we’re being unfair. There’s a lot of timber lying at the roadside and it could be easy to get confused. Okay, maybe we’re just playing Devil’s advocate here, but it was a theory put forward by one member. 

“Hoping it was an innocent mistake but that’s the optimistic side of me,” they wrote.

Let’s end on something of a positive note. A final discussion that got members talking last month was just what grants should be available to help operators. 

Forestry Journal: Keith Palmer Keith Palmer

One member asked the Blog: “Last year, DEFRA had some grants for new kit which also included some forestry machinery. They now want to review the list of items available for grant funding before they launch the second round later this year.

“You can suggest items available for the second round and give item specifications you think need to be amended by responding to the consultation.” 

Replies were mixed. One member said: “Buy every commercial chainsaw operator a brand new saw, trousers, boots, Protos helmet, a tree jack, a Tirfor (that’ll never come out of the van), couple of hammers/axes, selection of wedges, first-aid kit, heap of files, selection of bars, 100 ft roll of chain, breaker and joiner, tapes, gloves, radios, waterproofs, combi can, breaking bar and you might as well chuck in a free refresher course for what it’s worth. That’s before he fires up his old van/pickup to scrape a living.

Forestry Journal: Gav Robertson Gav Robertson

“Whatever DEFRA do it should be aimed at the areas that need supporting and it should be obvious to anyone who works on the ground it’s the chainsaw operator that needs help.” 

Another said: “All grants do is push the price of new kit up. They should stop handing money out.” 

What was that we said about ending on a positive note? 

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