The biggest show in the UK tree industry rolls into rural Staffordshire on 18-20 September, when over 20,000 visitors are expected to attend the biannual APF International Forest Machinery Exhibition.
A slight rise in exhibitor numbers will see 250 stands promoting everything from chainsaws to firefighting equipment. But according to exhibition secretary Ian Millward, the most noticeable trend at this year's show will be the prevalence of bio-energy equipment and supplies.
"It's flavour of the year, and a big untapped resource," he says. "Particularly in the South East, a lot of landowners have low-grade hardwood that they can't do anything else with."
And with the continuing high price of fossil fuels, it is now more attractive for estates to install their own wood-fired boilers instead of oil-fired ones, he says.
Interest in bio-energy was further boosted with the announcement in June of a second round of the Defra-administered Bio-energy Infrastructure Scheme, which provides grants to help the development of the supply chain required to harvest, process, store and supply biomass to heat, combined heat and power, and electricity end-users. It provides grants of up to £200,000 to help producer groups in England establish themselves, buy or rent equipment and storage, and acquire training.
This area of the show will attract around 100 foreign delegates and will feature a series of four seminars tackling the various aspects of the bio-energy industry, organised by the Paris-based International Energy Agency (IEA) and the government-funded Biomass Energy Centre. Forestry Commission director general Tim Rollinson will chair the morning session.
A particular focus will be to look at what lessons can be learnt from Continental countries where the bio-energy sector is more established.
The show provides an opportunity for Midlothian-based woodchip energy firm Pentland Biomass, a recent British entrant into the sector, to showcase its 24-tonne articulated lorry-mounted chipper.
Company owner Richard Spray says: "Biomass has taken off over the past two or three years and particularly this year. People want to know that they can get regular supplies and are concerned there's not enough, but there's plenty - we are chipping 4,000 to 5,000 tonnes of waste wood a year."
Pentland will also be looking for partners to provide a nationwide on-site chipping service, he adds. "We can get the chipper to anywhere in the UK for people with a lot of wood to chip."
The company also plans to expand into producing plugs of tree seedlings for the biomass industry at sister-company Pentland Plants' 2ha glasshouse, which is powered by a 2,000kW biomass boiler.
The APF show has its roots in the forestry industry. But Millward points to an increase in arboriculture-related exhibitors relative to those involved in traditional forestry. "It's an expanding sector in areas like railside vegetation management and utility arboriculture," he says. "Companies want to exhibit because they have heard it's a good hard-core trade show. There's a huge amount of deals being done and cash changing hands. Some exhibitors find they fill their order books for the next 12 months."
For forestry and arboricultural equipment supplier Trees Unlimited, attendance is worth the investment. Company director Craig Johnson says: "It has the footfall - it draws people out of the woods who might spend a couple of days there and not go to another show all year. It also raises the company's profile in the industry."
Johnson notes a slowdown in some sectors as a result of the dip in the housing market. "Fewer people are moving so there are fewer surveys being done, and there are fewer site clearances. But safety work is holding up."
The show takes the form of a continuous frontage extending over more than 2.5km, plus displays of working machinery extending over a further 5.5km. One of the event's strengths is the space it offers to exhibitors to demonstrate their equipment, on a wooded former military base. Such equipment ranges from pond diggers and planting machines to horse logging and demonstrations of best practice when working at height.
"There's nothing else of (APF's) size in the UK, and only two bigger in Europe," says Millward. "A lot of Continental firms exhibit, and there are many product launches, though often exhibitors keep quiet about these until the show itself. The people we attract don't go to many shows - this may be one of only two they'll go to in the year."
This makes APF a valuable networking event, he adds. Two industry bodies, the Forestry Contracting Association and the Small Woods Association, hold their annual general meetings during the show.
Alongside the commercial opportunities, the show hosts European championships in lumberjacking, pole climbing and chainsaw carving, as well as a range of serious and not-so-serious events (see box, above).
The event has also aimed to promote tree work to the young, with visits organised since 2002 bringing in around 800 schoolchildren each year. "We take groups of young people round the site to show them what the industry is about," says Millward. "We try to get them away from the fluffy, squirrel-hugging attitude towards trees, and to see them as a renewable crop."
Venue: Cannock Chase Country Park, Staffordshire WS12 4PW
Dates: 18-20 September
- Seminars Friday 19 September sees four separate sessions on the theme of bio-energy, supported by the Biomass Energy Centre. These will look at the political context, the commercial prospects, the latest boiler technology, and the broader consequences of a large-scale switch to biomass.
- European Lumberjack Sports Championships
Organised by the British Lumberjack Sports Association and sponsored by Stihl and UPM Tilhill, this comprises five events to test competitors' skill with a chainsaw. Around 30 contestants from across Europe are expected, with the trophy being awarded on the Saturday.
- European Pole Climbing Championships
Competitors will vie to scale a 27m-high tree pole in the shortest time possible. Expect winning times of as little as 10 seconds. Sponsored by Husqvarna, the event runs over all three days, and includes ladies' and senior events. Competitors may able to enter on the day.
- UK Forwarder Driving Competition Contestants will drive around a course, loading and unloading logs, in the shortest possible time. Organised by Forestry Operator Training Services and sponsored by Komatsu, the competition will take place over all three days.
- International Chainsaw Carving Competition
Sculptors will compete over the three days to produce a wooden sculpture from scratch - with the winner collecting £500, chainsaw equipment and a share of the sale of the sculpture. The contest includes two speed-carving competitions each day. It is sponsored by Echo.
- World Log to Leg Pole Lathe Turning Championships
Features 16 turners going head-to-head to turn lengths of round timber into chair legs in the shortest possible time.
- Woodland crafts area
Includes demonstrations of how a range of wooden products are made, including hazel hurdles, gates, baskets, trugs, brooms, clogs, chairs signs and even canoes. Sponsored by forestry equipment supplier Buxtons.
- UK Axe Throwing Championships
- Extreme mountain biking demos
- From Seed to Sawmill - tours for school pupils.