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Plant Hirer's Operators Hail 'Most Comfortable Excavator'

A specially modified JCB JS220LC – fitted with extra width tracks – is performing mulching duties at the Border Mires restoration project in Northumberland on behalf of the Forestry Commission.

The unique combination of JCB excavator, mulching head attachment and bespoke track configuration has been described as the best in use by several experts in the field. Furthermore, the machine – purchased by County Durham-based plant hirer Oakfields Plant Hire Ltd – has been hailed as the most comfortable machine they have operated by the company’s drivers.

Mike Lopez, owner of Oakfields, said: “Having visited sites all around the country, the Forestry Machine Operator Certificate plant assessor labelled this as one of the best machine set-ups he has seen. The mulching head designed for excavators is quite often used on 30-tonne machines to ensure enough hydraulic flow and pressure, but the modified JS220 is running it fine.

“Our operators also love the machine as it is the most comfortable they have tried and provides excellent visibility through the skylight – which is especially important for forestry mulching given much of the work is carried out at tree-top level rather than in the usual digging zone.

“It also retains its balance well despite using a heavy attachment, as the ground bearing pressure reduction has been achieved through the superior track configuration, allowing the fitment of 1200mm shoes centralized onto the standard carriage rather than the usual off-set style.

“I would also add that the service from our dealer TC Harrison JCB has been first class and salesman James Taylor was particularly helpful when adapting the machine hydraulics to meet the tough demands of this application.”

The Border Mires in Kielder Forest are a series of active blanket mires (peat bogs). Blanket Mires are a globally restricted peat land habitat confined to cool, wet climates where the very slow rate of plant material decomposition allows the accumulation of blanket bog peat. The Border Mires in particular support several rare and scarce species of wild animals and vegetation. Since 1986, the Forestry Commission has been working to manage their conservation and to re-establish the mires to their original boundaries by removing trees and raising water tables.

In order to achieve this, contractors such as Oakfields have been brought in to remove the existing conifer trees and enrich the land through the process of mulching.

Oakfields have tailored a JCB JS220 tracked excavator to meet the unique needs of mulching applications after several years experience of mulching and the harsh working environments. The most striking element of the adaptation is the measures taken to reduce ground bearing pressure. This was essential due to the unsupportive nature of the ground combined with the additional weight of the two-tonne mulching attachment.

The reduction has been achieved through firstly fitting extra-wide 1200mm tracks. Furthermore, slats from the original 700mm tracks fitted as standard to the excavator, have been bolted on to the outside of the 1200mm tracks to provide even greater surface area in contact with the ground. The result is an improved footprint of 13.3m˛. This gives a ground bearing pressure of 2.35psi – considerably lower than the 7psi of a regular 20-tonne excavator – enabling the JCB model to operate effectively on the unstable ground without sinking into the peat bogs which can be up to 21 feet deep.

Additional enhancements made to the machine include the fitting of 10mm thick steel underbelly plates, a safety case around the cab and a 12mm toughened glass screen.

Based in County Durham, Oakfields has traditionally offered operated plant hire, agricultural and forestry services, serving the North East of England. Now after several years in forestry and site clearance, the company has tailored the machine to provide a specific service but also allow flexibility which is important to the business. This is leading to increased opportunities due to its expertise and range of specialist equipment.