MANY of Scotland’s trees can last multiples of the average human lifespan. For Andy O’Neill, of O’Neill Trees & Timber Ltd, there is something fundamentally wrong about simply turning our backs on these ancient giants when they finally reach the end of their lives.

Firewooding or leaving them to rot in the corner of a field is not the way forwards, he argues. 

A far more fitting fate for these grand old trees, he believes, is to transform them into locally produced, high quality wood products. The character in timber that has matured over a century, often more, can be spectacular. It can be used to create furniture, timber and functional art that people will treasure as heirlooms and hand on to their next of kin and beyond.

At the same time as creating marvellous tables and wood products, when used in this way, the timber from these great ancestor trees will continue to store much of the carbon that the tree has sequestered over its lifetime. 

“This is such a win-win. At O’Neill Trees & Timber, we have cutting capability that allows us to mill huge live edge slabs and dimensional timber from felled trees that are up to two metres in diameter. We can mill trees of virtually any length, enabling us to create unique timber with character and local provenance from giants, who have reached their natural ends while allowing them to live second lives as cherished wood products.”

O’Neill is keen to emphasise that as an environmentally conscious arborist, he is absolutely not about felling healthy trees without good reason. “People tend to assume that because you work with chainsaws, you will cut down anything.. Nothing could be further from the truth; we are chainsaw environmentalists. Our goal is to keep trees safe, healthy and upright” he says. 

“Where possible, we are also advocates of leaving standing deadwood and habitat piles, often missing from our manicured green spaces. These provide a wealth of opportunity for nature to thrive.
“We do recognise that at some point, even trees that can live for centuries, come to the end of their natural lives, succumb to disease or storm damage and must be felled for safety reasons.

"The question then is, how do we make the best use of these amazingly long-lived giants that is a fitting tribute whilst environmentally sound? As a society, we have no established mechanism of dealing with large, non-forestry trees at the end of their lives that truly meets these criteria. That’s where we come in.” he says.

O’Neill started his tree services business in November 2018. “At the beginning we had several clients with private estates and provided a range of services for them. 

“However, I decided to focus on what I am truly passionate about, namely tree care and making the best use of wood from fallen trees,” he says. 

“We endeavour to help trees thrive in our communities for our clients. There are tremendous benefits from having the right species in the right place, and this includes within domestic residences, private estates and public green spaces. 

“We need to keep the trees we have healthy and standing for as long as possible while treating trees at the end of their life as a precious resource, in the fight against climate change and to enhance our communities,” he says. 

Another of O’Neill’s concerns is what he considers to be the poor level of adherence to the British Standard for Tree Work displayed by some who offer tree work services. Chainsaws in unskilled hands are likely to do far more harm than good.

Instead of extending the lives of valued trees, poorly executed pruning for example, can allow pests and disease into trees, drastically shortening their lives. 

Working on trees is a privilege and comes with a responsibility to seek the best balance between the needs of the tree, its environment and the client’s objectives.

As the business heads into its sixth year, O’Neill says that he is grateful to work with an amazing, forward thinking client base, which appreciate his environmentally conscious approach to tree work. 

“We seek out every opportunity to challenge our industry to do better and raise the bar, to educate our community regarding the difference high quality tree work can make to our clients’ trees and woodlands. 

“We strive to keep trees upright and healthy, remaining fit for their environment while they selflessly add biodiversity, ecology, physical and mental health benefits.” 

He goes on to say: “Our work with end-of-life trees through Tree Salvage, seeks the highest possible outcome for trees, honouring the lives they have lived, the oxygen provided, and the carbon sequestered as heirloom quality wood products with character and provenance.

“This is further enhanced by low transport miles which supports the local circular economy and reduces our need for imported hardwood timber from countries with questionable environmental and labour practices. 

“There’s so much more to tree care than just cutting them.”