Outdoor life proves rewarding for Scots forestry champion - Agriforest features in Q&A with The Herald

Oct 13 2019

Name: Douglas Mathison.

 

Age: 30.

What is your business called?
Agriforest Ltd.

Where is it based?
Peeblesshire, in the Scottish Borders

What services does it offer?
Forest management, specialising in the harvesting of small and medium sized woodlands in a variety of areas, mainly across central/southern Scotland. We undertake hugely varied workloads, from harvesting sites situated on golf courses and high public access areas, through to woodland management works in challenging locations. Our aim is to achieve the best financial return possible for the owner.

To whom does it sell?
Our main client base consists of farmers, estate owners, local authorities, land agents, and individual forest owners.

What is its turnover?
£1.4m.

How many employees?
Two part time, with four contractors kept busy all year round, along with two timber haulage firms who have lorries working for the business week in, week out.

When was it formed?
The business was incorporated in June 2016.

Why did you take the plunge?
I absolutely hated being an employee-it didn’t suit me at all. Being a self-employed contractor didn’t suit either, as continuity of work was an issue at certain times of year, along with a lack of growth potential. All in all, I wasn’t settled. Setting up my own limited company was the only way I could see of myself being happier, fulfilling a lifetime ambition and giving myself a huge challenge that I would be ‘the master and commander’ of. The thought of potentially earning more money or any other similar benefits didn’t even come into it.

What were you doing before you took the plunge?

I was working full time for a timber harvesting and marketing company, starting as a contracts manager and being promoted to managing my own area just before I handed my notice in.


How did you raise the start-up funding?
I worked self employed as a tree surgeon at weekends and when on holiday whilst also being employed full time, which allowed me to put some funds aside. I didn’t receive any financial assistance in the form of start up grants, or family loans, which I think is extremely important. I think you value what you have a great deal more if it’s completely yours.

What do you most enjoy about running the business?
Without a doubt, the variety. Last week for example, I met clients and other business people, visited harvesting sites, did some work on a stunning historic estate near Peebles, driving the tractor & forestry trailer, and felling some large trees which were too big for the harvesting machinery to fell. In addition, I covered a lot of miles in the pick up in some glorious autumn sunshine in some lovely countryside.

What is your biggest bugbear?
Paperwork. Just when you think you are getting somewhere with it, the postman arrives and your mood soon changes. I don’t mind it in small amounts often, but when you have no choice (at month end, for example) sometimes it does get a little soul destroying.

What are your top priorities?
To grow the business year on year, and to continue the reinvestment of much of the profits; the purchase of further machinery, which will enable us to be more reliable and cost effective/more competitive when it comes to certain jobs; to buy business premises such as a yard area, for storing machinery and timber. A separate office to the house would also be a help; to expand our existing base of managed properties; to employ full time staff-if the right person(s) were available.

What could the Westminster and/or Scottish governments do that would help?
There is a significant skills shortage in the industry, which is going to get worse before it gets any better. From harvesting, to haulage, to planting, everyone has the same problem. Noises are being made, but not enough to make a significant difference for now, at least. A realistic but attractive approach is required to entice people to think about forestry as a career. It feels the industry is a bit stuck in its ways, and needs help from above to push on and move into the 21st century. This could be in the form of more apprenticeships, more qualifications, and a more recognised career structure which allows people to progress from ground level up.

What was the most valuable lesson that you learned?
Don’t take things for granted, a situation can change rapidly, and it’s important not to take your eye off the ball until the particular task in hand is complete.

How do you relax?
I usually try to leave my phone behind for even just a few hours at the weekend, and go and do something different, whether this is mountain biking, walking, or riding my horse.

By Mark Williamson, The Herald Group Business Correspondent

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