A day in the life of a tree-cutter

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your job

I’ve been working with SSEN as part of the tree-cutting team for six years, and before that I was at the Scottish School of Forestry. Our team’s job is to keep trees and vegetation away from the overhead power lines as if they get too close, they can get blown into our equipment, which could lead to a power cut.

Where are you based?

My depot base is in Inverness, but as we cover the whole of the Highlands and Islands there’s a real variety to the places I get to go to as part of my job. One day I could be working 20 minutes up the road, but on another I might need to do a couple of hundred miles round trip (including a ferry!) to be on one of the more remote islands.

Do you work on your own or in a team?

Safety is the number one priority here at SSEN and so we always work in pairs; not only is it the safest way to work, it’s also more sociable, especially when there’s a lot of travelling involved. I’ve also found that this makes for good team spirit, and that’s a great feeling, especially when we’re all out working in a typical Scottish winter.

Describe your typical working week

Our week is all scheduled out for us by the planning team, and the variety of locations and jobs is one of the things that makes it a really interesting place to work. While the primary purpose is the same no matter where we go, which is keeping trees and vegetation away from our lines, the places we’re working and jobs we’re doing vary day to day, week to week.

We also go out in storms and bad weather to help our colleagues who are working on the overhead electricity network. Despite our best efforts throughout the year to keep branches away from our equipment, we still get times when a whole tree is literally uprooted and blown across a line, causing a power cut, and then it’s our job to get it off as safely and as quickly as possible.

What do you most enjoy about your work?

I like being out and about, and I really enjoy working at height, and so this job is ideal for me. Travelling through some amazing scenery (not always in amazing weather though, sadly) is a real perk of the job, and when you’re up near the top of a massive oak tree you get a view that not many people are lucky enough to see.

Do you have any particular day that stands out as being really memorable?

There's been a few memorable times over the years, mainly during storms when we've had to travel around to different locations, sometimes late at night, removing trees that have blown onto the line and helping the linespeople rebuild the network. There is a real sense of achievement knowing that you're helping restore people's power.

More recently there was a fault on a small island (Scalpay) just off Skye. We got our instructions to drive to Plockton, and then a helicopter would take us over to the island. We arrived and boarded the helicopter with our tools, and once we were up in the air the pilot flew us over the forest a couple of times so we could see exactly where the tree had fallen on the line. We then landed in a small opening and carried out the necessary work to remove the tree and restore power to the island. We travel a lot in this job, but on this one the helicopter ride really made it a day to remember.

What would you say to someone considering a job as a tree-cutter?

If you enjoy working outdoors and like travelling, the tree-cutting team is certainly something worth looking into. Since I’ve been here SSEN has put me through all the training that I need to do so that I have the right certificates for the job, and they’ll also make sure I get all the refresher courses. The training programmes, team spirit and SSEN’s focus on safety all make this a great place to work.

Any final thoughts?

Don’t worry if you’ve not got a head for heights, we also have teams who are based on the ground and don’t do any climbing, so there’s opportunities there as well.  

About the author

Van on rural road

Scottish and Southern Electricity Networks

We're responsible for maintaining the electricity networks supplying over 3.8 million homes and businesses across central southern England and north of the Central Belt of Scotland. We own one electricity transmission network and two electricity distribution networks, comprising 106,000 substations and 130,000 km of overhead lines and underground cables across one third of the UK. Our first priority is to provide a safe and reliable supply of electricity to the communities we serve in Scotland and England.

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