Meet the Starkey brothers - wood loggers from Delamere
PUBLISHED: 00:00 16 September 2015 | UPDATED: 21:07 20 October 2015
Will and Sam Starkey took their family farm at Delamere and branched out into a successful logging business, writes Martin Pilkington
Will and Sam Starkey are the third generation to run their family’s farm in beautiful Delamere.
Their grandparents worked it as a dairy operation from the 1940s onwards, first as tenants then buying it in the 1970s. They passed it on, by then a cereal and potato concern, to their son, and a few years ago the brothers took over what had become largely a supplier of forage to other dairy farmers.
‘It’s quite wet, so grassland is the best thing for it,’ explains Sam: ‘And about 30 acres are woodland so they weren’t really producing anything. Then four years ago we got a felling grant from the Forestry Commission, and a licence to clear-fell one block of woodland.’
‘The woodland needed to be managed, it needed something doing with it,’ adds Will.
‘At the time we were both working elsewhere as the forage side is not very lucrative, and initially did this evenings and weekends, chopping and replanting every hour that god sends. Now we’re starting to see the benefit. It started with a few local orders in Norley and Frodsham, just by word of mouth, and grew from that. We suddenly realised there was a business here.’ Thus Delamere Logs was born.
They have the skills to manage the venture, both having graduated from Harper Adams, where Sam studied land management and Will business. ‘We are both hands on really,’ says Sam: ‘And it looked like we had the basis of a business, so we thought we’d do it properly.’
Both brothers emphasise that doing it properly is not just about economics. They are determined to have something to pass on to the next generation, and the next after that.
‘The felling grant pays for the trees to be replanted, just for the trees, so we had to plant over 1100 of a range of hardwood species. They’re doing pretty well now,’ says Will.
It’s not a quick turnaround though: ‘We can take thinnings out of the silver birch in about 15 years, but trees like the beech will be quite a bit longer, towards the end of our lifetimes,’ explains Sam: ‘We’re trying to shape it for future generations – that may sound cheesy but it’s true. We’re trying to look after the land.’
To help with the expanding business they recently took on Gareth Evans, who did work experience with them while he was at Reaseheath studying forestry. He’s drawing up woodland management plans covering the next ten years, and taking care of time-consuming tasks like staking the saplings and protecting them with guards to foil the local rabbit population.
Another important aspect of their green approach is that they don’t kiln dry their wood: ‘We’re trying to be as environmentally responsible as possible; it’s a renewable resource, why waste energy burning gas or oil to dry wood when you can do it naturally?’ asks Sam.
Their yard is crammed with stacks of crates, about 1000 currently, where the cut logs are dried for free by the plentiful winds on their Cheshire hilltop. Softwoods can be ready in four months or so, hardwoods can take a year, but they won’t skimp on time: ‘We don’t sell it when it’s not seasoned, only when it’s ready,’ says Will: ‘If you let someone down once, they’ll not come back to you.’
Shortly they’ll be felling another 350 tonnes of timber. Investing in a combined saw and log-splitter was a considerable commitment, but it means the processing time will be reduced radically, helpful when there’ll be several thousand trees to replant, and hundreds of truckloads of timber to deliver throughout Cheshire, never mind the 10,000 nets of logs they sell annually to the county’s garages and garden centres.
Inevitably the business is seasonal, with a mad rush between October and December, but chimineas bring some summer sales, as does the new trend for wood-fired pizza ovens at pubs and restaurants. Through a tree-surgeon friend they’re building a stock of fruit-woods specifically for customers with ovens and chimineas, ready for next summer: ‘Cherry and apple and pear smell fantastic when they burn,’ says Will.
Wood-burners, however, remain their biggest market, and it’s a growing one – last year alone there were 200,000 sold in the UK according to Will, who reckons the payback on a stove against gas heating is just four years. But again it’s about much more than mere economics: ‘We’ve always had fires ourselves,’ says Sam: ‘And there’s nothing like the instant heat and the comfort they bring to a room.’
Will and Sam’s tips for wood-burner use
• Don’t use pine! It never dries properly, and the sap clogs flues
• Use softwood for rapid heat, hardwood to burn for longer.
• Buy logs 8”to 10” long: longer risks damaging the burner’s firebricks
• Look for logs cracked at the ends by drying, or bang them together: clack = dry, thud = wet
• Buy naturally seasoned logs – they’re environmentally friendly
• Store carefully
• Purchase a stock in summer when logs are cheaper
• Have the flue cleaned annually as a precaution against chimney fires.