The Borders man who makes a living from unwanted trees

May 13 2020

An entrepreneur is enjoying success by helping to make houses, animal shavings and food pallets. Douglas Mathison, 31, of Peeblesshire, fells trees across the south of Scotland through his company Agriforest.

“Even with the poorest quality timber, you can still get a lot of use out of it,” says Mr Mathison, explaining that unwanted woods on farms and estates have the potential to serve a variety of purposes.

Once the timber has been taken to the sawmill, Mr Mathison says, the best of it gets transformed into timber-framed houses, while the scraps might ultimately line a rabbit hutch. When Agriforest was founded in 2016, it served a role that was “unique” in the south of Scotland, according to Mr Mathison. Established firms often shunned the type of tasks that Agriforest expressed an interest in, he says.

“When I first started, we were the only one in the south of Scotland that was doing this work on a very small basis,” Mr Mathison says.

“We’ve been taking on an increasing workload, focusing on smaller jobs that other companies are not interested in working on.”

Although there are now three or four other firms carrying out a similar role in the region, according to Mr Mathison, Agriforest continues to field enquiries from Kilmarnock to West Linton and beyond.

Explaining the typical process, Mr Mathison says an initial phone call will often lead to a site visit, which in turn results in Mr Mathison estimating the potential financial return that could be made on a patch of woodland if felled. If the farmer wishes to press ahead and Mr Mathison secures a licence from Scottish Forestry, Agriforest will send in the machinery, remove the trees and take the timber to sawmills. The farmer can be paid within a few weeks, according to Mr Mathison, who shares a portion of the money he receives from the mills. Aside from felling, Agriforest carries out replanting and also manages a number of estates. Mr Mathison says his success has overcome a historical perception among certain landowners that woodland is “not worth bothering about”.

In his experience, he says, an undermanaged patch of trees will be worthy of attention “nine times out of 10”.

Mr Mathison is a former Peebles High School pupil who went on to study rural business management in Edinburgh. He launched Agriforest after a stint working for a large timber harvesting company.