estonbirt Arboretum, near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, is famed for its autumn colours. But here, as anywhere else, trees sometimes have to be removed, be it because of old age or damage. And at this point, there is usually a need to remove the stump as well.
At Westonbirt, staff use a tractor-mounted stump grinder but the choice on the market is huge. There are hand-held models, pedestrian-operated push machines, self-propelled units, tracked machines and even radio- controlled versions.
Conditions on the day of the test were dry and sunny.
ECHO BEAR CAT SG340
It is certainly a neat and compact machine to transport in the back of a small van. At just 58cm wide, it shouldn't have any trouble gaining access through gateways and the wide tyres look lawn-friendly. And the price of £2,495 ex VAT is also attractive.
Unlike any other stump grinder we have seen, the Bear Cat has a horizontal cutter wheel. In fact, it looks more like a serious brushcutter. Locked into the wheel are four carbide teeth and the head turns at 3,600rpm. The cutter wheel is 18cm in diameter and can be seen through a screen at the front of the machine. The engine is an 11hp Honda OHV.
The machine comes with a well laid-out and easy-to-understand operating and servicing manual. Starting is simple: switch on the fuel, set the throttle lever into the choke position, grasp the lower bail (operator presence control) to the handle and pull the recoil cord.
Grinding the stump is also simple. With the cutter positioned over the stump and the top bail held to the handle to engage the wheel brake, the stump grinder can be pivoted from left to right.
Echo Bear Cat tells us that this grinder's "fast and effective cutting head means that a 25cm-diameter stump, 10cm above ground and 10cm below, will take only five minutes to clear". And other reports tell us that leylandii stumps quickly succumb to this grinder. Leylandii? We test the SG350 on cherry - one of the hardest woods at Westonbirt.
The grinder makes slow progress on cherry but after five minutes' work is looking in better condition than Litten. "This is hard work," he says. We check the stump. It is still there but is a little smaller. Litten adds: "The machine's a bit too sedate for tough old cherry."
THE REVIEW PANEL
Ben Jones, arboreta specialist, Westonbirt Arboretum
Justin Litten, arboreta specialist, Westonbirt Arboretum
Richard Townsend, arboreta specialist, Westonbirt Arboretum