FORESTRY England has quickly adapted its Super Prefer lining-out machine to keep staff safe from coronavirus while they continue their essential work preparing seedlings for planting in forests and woodlands.

Work at Forestry England’s nurseries has continued since social distancing measures were introduced and it had to quickly adapt to keep staff safe. Its nurseries supply some 18 million trees a year, not only to Forestry England but to Natural Resources Wales and Forestry and Land Scotland too.

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Chris Hardy, Forestry England’s head of plant and seed supply, explained: “Although our recent multi-million-pound investments in our glass house at Delamere introduced more automation, we still rely on a lot of professional skilled manual labour in growing and supplying high-quality saplings.

“Forestry England is already working to expand the nation’s forests and the UK as a whole has huge ambitions to significantly increase woodland cover. This, along with ongoing restocking and beating up, means the demand for trees has never been higher. But safety for our team always comes first.

“When coronavirus appeared, we were able to quickly adapt how we worked in many areas but using the lining-out machine presented a big challenge. This involves operators working shoulder-to-shoulder, so 2-metre social distancing was impossible. We had to come up with another way of working!

“In the end timber came to the rescue and we were able to create safety screens between the operators. The end result looks simple but we had to put in a lot of effort to be sure the changes are robust; huge thanks goes to Graham Hunter and his team at Wykeham nursery and Bill Foster at WKF98 Ltd Engineers for coming up with a winning solution. We have lost 20 per cent of our productivity by dropping from five operators to four, but with no compromise on safety this is a price worth paying.

“Lack of rain is now our current challenge, but we hope to keep that impact to a minimum too.”

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