Patrick Venables of environmental services specialist Maydencroft puts the P130 MEWP from Cumberland Platforms to the test.

MOBILE elevating work platforms (MEWPs) are fast becoming the norm in arboriculture, and more of us are using them on a daily basis. From the largest specialist platforms to small self-drive, they are now part of our everyday working lives.

When we bought our machine a couple of years ago, I spent weeks researching types, heights, reaches, reliability, and parts availability before finally committing to one. Despite some doubts about just how much it would be used, we’ve not looked back since and the machine is out working most days.

It was a beautiful sunny day in June when the Isuzu D-Max, supplied by Cumberland Platforms Limited, arrived at the depot, looking like it had just rolled off the production line.

Fitted with a Palfinger P130 MEWP, the whole thing is very compact with a pretty impressive 2.25 m headroom in transport position. The vehicle can be fitted with several extras including a reversing camera and beacons.

I wanted to see if anyone who was familiar with MEWPs and their operation would be able to safely set up and operate the machine, so I asked no questions of the delivery driver, other than: “Where’s the instruction book?”

After reading through the manual and checking that it had a valid LOLER certificate, we set it up in the yard for testing and familiarisation. This turned out to be an extremely simple exercise.

Ensure the handbrake is on and press the button that says ‘PTO’.

The outriggers have the standard four levers to operate them and it’s just a question of making sure the wheels are off the ground and the machine is level, although, like many machines, this can sometimes require a little jiggling before it’s ready to work.

Forestry Journal: All the controls are in a neat unit mounted just behind the cab.All the controls are in a neat unit mounted just behind the cab.

I can never quite understand why all MEWP builders don’t use the one-button, self-levelling system that some more enlightened manufacturers build into their machines. Trying to level a MEWP using a bubble level AND getting the green light from the system can sometimes be challenging on an older machine and who knows if the bubble level is accurate.

The foot pads are stowed in a small frame that’s easy to access on the body and once the machine is raised and the green light is on, you’re ready to go.

READ MORE: Buyer's guide: 4 MEWP solutions for access

Initially, I used the ground controls (always my preferred option with any MEWP I’m unfamiliar with) by simply turning a lever to enable the lower panel.

All the controls are in a neat unit mounted just behind the cab and there’s a couple of handy, lockable toolboxes there too. All the usual features you’d expect from any MEWP such as emergency cut-off, stop/start, manual pump and warning lights are here, making operation from the ground in an emergency very straightforward. There’s also a button to run the hydraulic pump directly from the battery in the event of engine failure on both the ground and basket controls.

Forestry Journal: The compact basket can take two 80 kg operatives, plus a further 80 kg of toolsThe compact basket can take two 80 kg operatives, plus a further 80 kg of tools

In operation, the machine was very smooth, with each command from the levers giving a positive and instant movement. For such a tiny and compact unit, the height and reach were quite surprising. If you’re carrying out line clearance, lots of lifts or even reductions of smaller street trees, this machine, with its off-road capabilities, would certainly tick most of the boxes for you.

Jumping in the basket, it was quite compact, as you’d expect from such a small machine, although it can take two 80 kg operatives plus a further 80 kg of tools. Two people plus tools would be rather snug, and you certainly couldn’t keep the required distance from the chainsaw operator. Not that I see this as an issue as you only usually need one person in the basket when cutting. Having the extra weight capacity will be very handy when the climber simply wants to use the machine to access the canopy and the MEWP operator can then lower and move the machine out of the way (although, this can always be done from the ground).

The next day, I gave a quick briefing and familiarisation to the teams and sent them on their way to test in the field.

Forestry Journal: Fitted with a Palfinger P130 MEWP, the Isuzu D-Max has an impressive 2.25 m headroom in transport position.Fitted with a Palfinger P130 MEWP, the Isuzu D-Max has an impressive 2.25 m headroom in transport position.

The range of works during the three days of testing was pretty varied: lifts, dead wooding, small reductions, cutting away from services, and, simply, climber access.

Being a small machine, there were obvious limitations when it involved larger trees but the teams found that for much of the general street tree works, the small footprint meant that there weren’t many occasions when the MEWP couldn’t be positioned. When using at or near its limits, the downside, like all machines, was lack of reach meaning the vehicle would be in the drop zone. On smaller trees, this isn’t a problem as it has a pretty impressive reach for such a small unit. One of its biggest advantages is that the knuckle always remains within the confines of the machine base, meaning no worry about a vehicle strike when operating at a low level.

Forestry Journal: To set up the MEWP, ensure the handbrake is on and press the button that says ‘PTO’ – it’s as simple as that.To set up the MEWP, ensure the handbrake is on and press the button that says ‘PTO’ – it’s as simple as that.

I’d asked the teams, who are all very experienced MEWP operators, to put the machine through its paces. No issues were reported. As with almost all MEWPs, there was an element of roll when driving, but nothing that made the driver worry.

With one operator, climbing kit and a chainsaw, even at full reach and moving around in the basket, it behaved impeccably; not much bounce, no legs lifting off the ground (always very disconcerting) and not once did the overload sensor kick in. No tests were carried out with two people being carried.

The small basket gave better access in tighter spaces and the 360-degree turntable meant less repositioning of the vehicle. Lifts and cutbacks were very straightforward, and a huge amount of time was saved compared with climbing. Reductions in streets are often more challenging with a MEWP as it can be difficult to access the house side of the tree, but as long as you approach the job with this in mind, cut what you can and then use the MEWP to access the tree and cut the hard to reach parts in the conventional manner, this machine will help to increase your efficiency and save you time compared with climbing every tree.

Being a brand new machine, there were no phantom sensor errors, no boom stuck in the air for no reason and everything worked seamlessly. Anyone who has used MEWPs will know that older machines can, at times, be rather like a nervous horse and panic because they’ve just seen a bin bag. The more complex the machine, the more this is likely to happen as it ages. The simplicity of the CPL Palfinger P130 should hopefully help to avoid some of these issues in the future.

Forestry Journal: Ground controls are enabled by simply turning a lever.Ground controls are enabled by simply turning a lever.

At just shy of £50,000, it’s not cheap – but show me a decent MEWP that is. If you take into account the fully Euro 6 compliant engine, capable of over 40 mpg, requires no AdBlue, 360 Nm of torque and a towing capacity of 3.5 tonnes, you could find that long-term savings could be made compared to an older machine.

A MEWP that has off-road capability, can tow a large chipper, get through small gateways, is simple to operate and easy to drive is likely to be popular with the utility arb sector. Whether it would be adopted by the general arb industry will be completely dependent on the kind of work you’ll be doing. As a company that carries out a lot of work on oak processionary caterpillar nests, often in woodland locations, I think this machine could be ideal for us to be able to hire for a few months during the season.

Forestry Journal remains dedicated to bringing you all the latest news and views from across our industry, plus up-to-date information on the impacts of COVID-19.

Please support us by subscribing to our print edition, delivered direct to your door, from as little at £69 for 1 year – or consider a digital subscription from just £1 for 3 months.

To arrange, follow this link:

Thanks – and stay safe.