It can strip a tree from top to bottom in 30 to 90 seconds.
And since a specialist UK contractor arrived in the island three weeks ago, its giant tree muncher has reduced to mulch some 3-4 hectares of larch in the plantations.
It’s all part of an operation to combat the devastating phytophthora ramorum disease – and stop it spreading to our upland areas where it could devastate heather and blaeberry.
The operation will take three to four years to complete and when finished, all the island’s larch trees in the plantations - which make up a fifth of the trees in the government-owned forests – will have been felled.
Tholt-y-Will was the first plantation to be blitzed and the contractor is now working at Conrhenny, before moving onto the Barroose site on the other side of the the Creg-ny-Baa Back Road. The Kobelco machine with its Ahwi mulching head attachment first lops the top off the tree before mulching it in situ to ground level.
Area forester Jason Bolt said that there are no chemical treatments currently available that are effective against phytophthora ramorum. Felling prevents that pathogen being spread hundreds of metres by the wind and rain from swaying tree tops.
Speaking to the Examiner at the Conrhenny plantation, he said: ‘We are fighting the phytophthora ramorum disease by means of mulching just a small area of larch here before moving on to the next area just across the road. The idea is just to get the trees on the ground and make the ground usable for our future plans.
‘The disease is quite a big problem in the island. Larch represents about 20 per cent of our crop so we are looking at around 400 hectares - about 700 acres - of larch that we will be looking to remove over the next three to four years, using various different means. These guys are here as a quick hit just to get us going on it while we produce further contracts for local treefellers and other machine operators.’
Surveys carried last year found an infection rate of over 50 per cent but it is expected the disease has spread into other areas.
‘Our biggest worry is not necessarily that we are losing our larch trees, but it’s the threat – this particular disease can jump species so we are looking at protecting our heathlands, our blaeberry and other private gardens. There are over 150 different plant species including rhododendrons, viburnum and camellia that are listed as potentially at risk from this disease, most will die if they get infected.’
Mr Bolt said he hoped the tree felling operation can be completed within three to four years. ‘Sooner the better really – that’s why we wanted to get these guys in as soon as we could as soon as we had the okay and the money available.’
He added: ‘This mulch will just stay here, it will naturally degrade. We can plant on it again but we can just leave it as it is.’
Visitors to plantations are being urged to take simple biosecurity precautions to prevent the spread of disease. Mr Bolt explained: ‘If you’ve got mud on your boots or tyres just shake it off at the forest gate. Try not to take it with you onto a heathland especially. But if you get home and find you’ve got mud on your boots just wash them off there near a drain so you’re not taking it when you visit another woodland, heathland or garden.’