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Date: 30th April 2018

For harvesting contractor Dewi Williams the move from Wales to the north of England has gone well.  Currently working on the western slopes of Thirlmere in the Lake District, Dewi himself, Gethin Hughes, Tom Haynes and John Stephenson recently volunteered to spend a fine spring Saturday back at college.

The Director of Newton Rigg College, Jane Sullivan, was keen to welcome them and the other forestry professionals who made their way to Askham Bryan’s Penrith campus for the UK Loggers event that Peter Fox had organised: “This is an excellent opportunity for students past and present to demonstrate their skills and share expertise.”

Shelagh Todd, Head of Horticulture and Forestry at Newton Rigg, was also present along with forestry lecturers Richard Hunter and Martin Davies.  Richard explained how the event came about: “One of my students is preparing a project on logging sports and I contacted Peter Fox.  The result is today’s event which has gone brilliantly.  There has been a lot of socialising and the students are mixing with professionals.  We feel we have a duty to introduce our students to experienced professionals in the forestry industry.”

Planned as a fairly informal event, six of the college students from Level 2 and 3 forestry courses were ‘going in at the deep end’ with only 60-100 hours chainsaw experience.  While not all the regulars in the UK Loggers team were able to attend the event, enough had made the journey to Penrith to show off their high levels of skills.

Dealing with the complexity of the score sheets was Richard Siddons.  After the lunch break, he retired to a cool and quiet corner of the college’s Land and Wildlife Management facility – the building also doubled as the refreshment centre for the event – to convert extra seconds into penalty points and subtract further points for infringement of the rules.  Regular timekeeper and judge Tony Savage spent the full day starting and stopping his timepiece and advising on legality issues.

Peter Fox introduced each of the disciplines to the students and newcomers.  Meanwhile the seasoned competitors prepared themselves to change the bar and chain and then move on to the ‘combi-cut’, the ‘precision cut’ and the simulated tree-felling.  The snedding of the artificial tree would, as always, bring about a dramatic and hugely competitive conclusion to the event.

For local self-employed tree worker Darren Brookbanks of Threlkeld it was the second chainsaw competition he had entered: “It is a bit of fun and it’s enjoyable to meet the other lads, but there are so many opportunities that can come from the experience.”  For hugely experienced arborist Chris White, of Treevolution in the Central Belt of Scotland, it was the challenge of doing something new that persuaded him to register for the event.

John Tunstall of Cheshire sub-contracts as a climber but also spends part of his time providing arboricultural training services.  Newton Rigg was to be his third UK Loggers competition.  “The experience definitely improves your general work standards,” noted John.  “It was Alun Jones that first persuaded me to try the axe-throwing competition.  I would like to improve all those sorts of skills but the time factor and setting everything up tends to be a bit taxing.  I think my climbing skills are better than my chainsaw work. 

“I rarely get the chance just to fell and sned out trees but the UK Loggers events are forestry-based so I really like the experience.  I’d love to get out into the woods and cut timber… if the money was right.”  John also recognises that he sees climbing work as a young person’s game.  In his view it is worth being ready for every available opportunity to stay ahead.

Mark Giddings moved north with Dewi Williams and now has a home in the Cumbrian town of Wigton.  He is currently working as a harvester operator and loves the forests of the Lake District.  He even thinks the climate is great… although his opinion of this may be enhanced by the air conditioned and heated cabin of a modern forestry machine!  Having competed in four or five UK Loggers events, he took a break from the competition circuit when his two young children arrived.  Now they are older he was unable to resist ‘having another go’ at the Penrith meeting.

Maddy Parkin from Carlisle completed her forestry course at Newton Rigg a few years ago.  She is now an apprentice Environmental Conservation Ranger with the Lake District National Park.  While much of her work in the summer months now consists of general maintenance duties, the chainsaw skills she learnt at the Cumbrian college will, no doubt, be useful to her employer.  Having competed in competitions in 2017, a chance to swing her saw on home territory was to good to miss.  “It is great fun, it improves professional expertise and it is a real opportunity to travel,” says Maddy, who will be visiting Norway later this year with the UK Loggers team.

For Mark Edwards of Gloucestershire it was the first time he had returned to Penrith for many years.  He recognised the area near the castle and the station where he and his fellow students had spent weekend evenings having a good time sipping the odd beer or two.  Mark, however, did not stay the course and was soon back in the woods of the south west.  Now contracting and training, his return north was very enjoyable: top marks in the simulated felling helped him gain first place in the competition ahead of Dewi Williams and Gethin Hughes.

There were, in this case, no prizes for the professionals.  The Newton Rigg students all won prizes, with Connor McDonald coming out on top in the section.  Chris White did not go home empty handed either.  Whatever the age and experience of the competitor, the first competition entered qualifies him/her as a ‘novice’.

Peter Fox summed up the success of the event: “It’s been a great day and very well attended.  We have had great support from Newton Rigg and the forestry industry in the form of Tilhill [Pete Bowsher] and Euroforest [Simon Wallis].  We hope to run more college competitions in the future.  Keep your eye on the UK Loggers’ website.”

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Newton Rigg College,
CA11 0AH
01768 893400