The environment at some of the UK’s most pristine nature reserves has been given a helping hand by a special eight tonne Kubota KX080-3 excavator, which has been significantly modified to enable it to work effectively in these precious landscapes.
The machine, which is owned and operated by Moorlands Specialist Excavations Ltd of Leek, Staffordshire, incorporates a host of modifications, including low ground pressure, extra-wide tracks and fully biodegradable oil.
It has been in constant use on Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) in and around the Staffordshire Moorlands and Peak District ever since the adaptations were completed towards the end of last year.
Previously, the sites, which are home to some of the country’s rarest flora and fauna, were off limits to conventional excavators because of the potential damage and disturbance they might cause.
The machine belongs to Eddie Warrener, owner of Moorlands Specialist Excavations, which undertakes contracts on terrain that is both difficult and sensitive to access or work on.
He said: "A great deal of manpower is needed to manage SSSIs, which can often be quite inaccessible and have serious environmental considerations, so last year I looked around for a machine that could do the job without disturbing the land.
"Despite an extensive search, it seemed that there was no standard piece of kit ideally suited for the job, so I decided that I would buy the best available standard machine and then spec it to the hilt to give me exactly what I needed."
When Eddie approached the market with his requirements, not everyone was interested. But he found an ideal and receptive partner in Jon Barnfield, Sales Director at his local Kubota dealer, BTE Plant Sales Ltd, of Markfield, Leicester, who had no hesitation in recommending the class-leading KX080-3 model as the ideal solution.
The KX080-3 is a high performance, turbo-engined, short tail swing 8.2 tonne machine which offers comprehensive state-of-the-art technology as standard. It also comes complete with Kubota's unique key-based 'ANTI-THEFT' system, a full three year warranty, and benefits from Datag CESAR - a construction equipment security scheme promoted by the Construction Equipment Association (CEA) and supported by the Construction Plant Hire Association (CPA). Combining low running costs with exceptional safety, durability and reliability, it is the largest machine in the Kubota range and has a well-balanced arm and bucket, providing the operator with unparalleled digging force. Adjustable maximum oil flow on the auxiliary circuit optimises the use of an extensive range of attachments, while the reduced tail swing provides increased machine stability, meaning that it can work in some of the tightest and most restricted locations.
Jon said: "We have had previous experience modifying Kubotas for rail work and it was clear to us that the KX080-3 was perfect for Eddie. It is the only available machine in its class that didn’t need any other modifications prior to what he wanted to do to it.
"The KX080-3 was certainly big enough and strong enough and, in fact, 90 per cent of what he was looking for already came as standard. Plus, he wouldn’t affect the machine’s three year warranty by equipping the machine to his own detailed specification."
Although the Kubota machine was certainly a perfect starting point, it still required radical structural modifications to the undercarriage; a job which was carried out by BTE Plant Sales and through JCC Engcon Group, a specialist refitter in Darvel, Scotland.
Most notably, the existing 450mm rubber tracks were removed and replaced by 900mm steel versions, which gave the machine a ground bearing pressure of just three psi.
"If you bear in mind the pressure of a human foot is eight psi and the standard KX080-3 machine has a psi rating of about six, it was as if we’d put a pair of snow shoes on it," said Eddie Warrener.
The rear blade was extended by 18 inches each side to measure 9ft 6in wide. Two bottom rollers were added to the frame each side to support the track and the frame was made five inches taller to help with debris removal and aid ground clearance.
For recovery purposes and additional safety on steep ground, Eddie had a 13,000kg line pull Superwinch H30P hydraulic winch custom-mounted, but the piéce de resistance was the Engcon tiltrotator, which has a quick hitch top and bottom and an integral grab, all controlled via a full proportional set up.
Eddie said: "The Engcon represented a significant investment, but it’s a remarkable piece of equipment. You can rotate and manipulate buckets and other attachments through various different angles, which is vital because I then don’t have to keep re-positioning the machine as much."
BTE replaced the oils in the hydraulics and engine with fully biodegradable oils from the Fuchs Lubricants Planto range. Eddie’s modified Kubota KX080-3 was first put into action at the end of 2009, on a wet, rushy pasture site at an SSSI near Flash in Staffordshire, which is managed under Natural England’s Higher Level Stewardship (HLS). A habitat for wading birds such as snipes, lapwings and curlews, the ground had become overgrown with rushes, which needed to be cut back while leaving intermittent areas of cover. Since then, Eddie’s special Kubota has been in virtually constant demand for work on many other environmentally sensitive sites.
"Wildlife sites that are difficult to access often require volunteers to maintain them and the work can be tough and lengthy," explained Denise Lorne, a land management and conservation advisor at Natural England, an organisation which works to conserve and enhance the natural environment. "Eddie’s machine is making a real difference, because it is doing the work in a fraction of the time that the volunteers would take, without damaging the ground. This means that the volunteers can be used elsewhere and farmers with SSSIs on their land can use them for grazing again."
"I am absolutely thrilled with my special KX080-3 and extremely grateful for the extensive advice and assistance that I have received from both BTE and Engcon," added Eddie. "The machine certainly grabs people’s attention and it has opened a whole new area of work for me. We are undertaking jobs now with our Kubota that we wouldn’t have been able to do before. There is simply nothing else like it out there." Eddie also equipped his machine with a heavy duty Osma flail through JCC Engcon Group and during the modification work, the firm’s managing director, John Craig, became so impressed with the standard Kubota KX080-3 that he subsequently purchased one for his own hire fleet.
Richard Harrison, Kubota (UK) Ltd – Construction Equipment Sales and Marketing Manager, said: "Our standard KX080-3 already incorporates a host of advanced high-tech features and equipment, providing exceptional value-for-money.
"Designed to boost productivity and increase operator safety and comfort, it has become one of our most popular models."