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Hedgerow Harvesting Machinery
and Methods

1. Introduction..............................................................................................................................1

1.1. Target audience............................................................................................................1
2. Woods versus hedges..............................................................................................................2
3. Hedgerow harvesting machinery and methods......................................................................3

3.1. Harvesting, felling or coppicing hedgerows.................................................................3

3.2. S
 tockpiling and transporting the hedgerow material..................................................5

3.3. Processing the hedgerow material by chipping ..........................................................5

3.4. Transport......................................................................................................................7

3.5. Storage and drying.......................................................................................................7

3.6. F
 urther processing of hedgerow woodchip ...............................................................11
4. TWECOM Hedgerow harvesting machinery trials.................................................................12

4.1. C
 ase study: Roadside hedgerow tree harvesting in Bocholt.....................................12

4.2. C
 ase study: Harvesting timber from landscape elements in Limburg Province ......15

4.3. C
 ase study: Dyke-side alder row harvesting in West Flanders.................................15
5. Post-harvest hedgerow care.................................................................................................19

5.1. Gapping up hedgerows...............................................................................................19

5.2. Hedgerow tree development......................................................................................19
6. Conclusions............................................................................................................................20

Contactgegevens ABC Eco2
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This best practice guide describes the experiences
gained through the TWECOM Hedgerow Woodfuel
Project, which has researched the feasibility of
harvesting woodfuel from hedgerows. Through this
project, we have looked to optimise the logistics of
the whole harvesting process, from felling trees
and coppicing hedges, finding suitable places to
store and dry woodchip, right through to burning
the hedgerow woodchip in a woodfuel boiler. In
order to optimise every stage in the process, you
need to consider the hedge and your situation.
You need to choose the right machine which is
appropriate for harvesting or coppicing the type of
hedge you have, the scale at which you are going to
harvest, and the type of woodfuel boiler to match
the woodchip you are going to produce.

This Best Practice Guide

This guide has been produced based on the
experiences, knowledge and findings gained from
hedgerow harvesting machinery trials carried out
under the TWECOM Project. These were carried
out by Agrobeheercentrum Eco2 and Inagro in
Belgium and by The Organic Research Centre in
the UK. The results and guidance given here are
however largely based on the trials carried out by
aagrobeheercentrum Eco2 in the Bocholt district of
North Limburg in Belgium.
This best practice guide begins with a description
of the harvesting and processing machinery, and

the techniques that can be used to produce woodchip for bioenergy from hedges. There is already a
lot of information and research on the use of woody
biomass for energy production, however most of
this is based on experience gained from harvesting
timber from woodlands. Then the harvesting and
processing machines chosen for the Bocholt pilot
area and the experiences gained in working with
these machines are discussed. The harvesting of
black alder rows by Inagro from West Flanders
in Belgium is then discussed. The experiences,
results and recommendations which came out of
the hedgerow harvesting machinery trials carried
out in the UK by The Organic Research Centre
can be found at The
aftercare of coppiced hedges is considered at the
end of this guide.


This best practice guide is aimed at:
Hedgerow owners, landowners and farmers
Woodchip boiler owners
Land management agencies, such as local authorities and landscape and nature conservation
organisations who are interested in reducing
their hedgerow management costs through the
local valorisation/harvesting and use of hedgerow woodchip.
Landscape and forestry contractors

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There is already a lot of information and research

on the use of woody biomass for energy production,
however most of this is based on experience gained
harvesting timber from woodlands. There are
however considerable differences between hedges
and woodlands. Growing conditions are different;
hedges receive more light and therefore grow more
side branches, hedges have fewer trees or shrubs
per hectare, and the harvesting conditions are different; there is generally better access to hedges
and many of them run alongside roads, but there
are also more obstacles such as old wire fences
and houses within and near them. Hedges and
woodlands are both important for biodiversity, but
they provide different wildlife habitats, and hedges
have a key biodiversity role to play through creating
a network of corridors which connects wildlife
habitats. Hedgerows have always been characterised as being a much more dynamic habitat than
woodlands and should continue to be.
For a long time now, hedges have not been regarded as land for timber production. This is explained
by the following specific points.

Figure 9. Natural drying of woodchip through self-heating.

There are few opportunities to produce quality

wood from hedges: the trees and shrubs branch
out much more than in a woodland situation,
making it very difficult to produce nice long,
straight and branch-free stems.
The brushwood needs to be cleared up: there is
often not enough space to leave the high volume
hedgerow material from roadside pruning and
coppicing next to the hedges. The chipping of

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hedgerow material on roadside verges is both

time-consuming and often undesirable from an
ecological perspective. When hedgerow management work is done under contract, it is generally
not permitted for the brushwood or woodchip to be
left by the hedge. The use of hedgerow woodchip or
biomass for energy production is therefore an ideal
use for the wood from hedgerows. This provides
the opportunity for every bit of coppiced hedgerow
material to be used, and the whole-tree hedgerow
material can be chipped in one go.

Hedgerows have an important wildlife corridor

If we consider an individual hedge, then the
management or harvesting of hedges by coppicing
should be phased over several years, ie a coppice
rotation established. For example, a maximum of
1/4 of the length of a hedge or short sections of
100m maximum should be coppiced at any one
time. However for each landowner and in each
year, only a very limited length of hedge would be
available to harvest by coppicing. The small loads
of woodchip produced would be difficult to sell,
and the hire of machines to harvest such small
sections of hedge would be prohibitively expensive
and not cost-effective.
By working at a landscape scale, hedges do not
need to be considered on an individual basis,
where only a short section of one hedge can be
coppiced each year, but rather as part of a wider
network of hedges, where several hedgerows can
be harvested at once. Having a good hedgerow
network ensures that the corridor function of
hedges can still be delivered even where some
hedges are coppiced. By working holistically at the
landscape level, the productivity and efficiency of
hedgerow harvesting can be increased sensitively
and sustainably. This obviously requires a lot of
planning and preparation in getting all the necessary planning permissions and felling permits in
place, communication with hedgerow owners and
their neighbours, and sourcing suitable, adapted
and mobile harvesting and processing machinery.

There are several different stages involved in
the process of going from a hedge to a building
that is heated with wood chips. For every stage
in the process, there are several different types
of machines available. In order to make the best
choice of machine for your specific situation, this
guide aims to give an overview of those that are

Mounted on an excavator or tractor



The choice of base machine for the felling head

is determined by the ground conditions where it
will be working: paved roads, wet ground etc. In
woodlands or wet/marshy areas a tracked excavator is most appropriate, whereas on the roads a
wheeled excavator or tractor would be better. The
total weight of the machine is also very important
as most felling heads will allow an entire tree to be
harvested at once; therefore the machine must be
strong and stable enough to handle the weight of
the felled tree.


Cutting mechanism

A chainsaw is the basic piece of felling equipment.

Although there are many models available, they
mainly differ in horsepower and in length of the
cutting bar. Even when other more specialist machines are being used to fell trees such as a tree
harvester, more often than not it is still necessary
to have a chainsaw to hand. It is a good old simple
chainsaw that is needed to cut back a tree stump,
to fell large trees or coppice small shrubs cleanly,
to cut back a roadside branch or to cut off a root
ball and prevent it from going through the chipper.
The main drawback of a chainsaw is that it is very
slow in relation to mechanical harvesting, and
that where larger trees need felling, a machine is
really needed to move and place the whole trees,
otherwise they would need to be cut up in situ. The
advantage however is that a chainsaw can be used

There are three different cutting mechanisms

available in felling heads to fell trees and coppice
Chainsaw: an integral chainsaw cutting bar comes
out from the felling head and cuts through wood in
a very similar manner to a manual chainsaw. The
advantage is that it gives a good clean cut. This

When using a machine with a felling head, a tree

can be felled entirely mechanically, without the
need for any manpower. A felling head can be
mounted on an excavator arm or the front end
loader of a tractor instead of a bucket. There are
many different machines and combinations of machinery which can be used to fell trees and coppice
hedges mechanically. Here the aim is to describe
the main features of these harvesting machines.



Figure 3. Felling head with integral chainsaw cutting bar, similar to the Mecanil
XG220 energy wood head (

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trees instead of cutting with a saw. The diameter

of timber which they can cut through depends on
the model being used, for example the Westtech
Woodcracker C550 can cut through trees up to
50cm in diameter. If the blade is kept sharp, there
is no substantial damage to the tree stump in comparison with a chainsaw. The big advantage with
tree shears is the lack of moving parts, making
their maintenance and susceptibility to damage
much smaller. For example if the shears cut into


cutting mechanism is very useful when cutting

multi-stemmed shrubs or trees, such as coppice
stools. The disadvantage is that chainsaws require
a lot of ongoing maintenance, such as sharpening.
However, because there are many moving parts
in this type of felling head, there is a high chance
of damage to the chainsaw if it accidentally cuts
into the ground or hits a stone, but chainsaws are
fairly robust and relatively easy and cheap to repair,
much more so than very expensive integral circular
saws such as the Bracke felling head.
This type of integral chainsaw cutting bar is often
mounted on small-medium sized timber grabs and
marketed as bioenergy felling heads; the Gierkink
GMT 035 ( is one of several
Circular saw: an integral circular saw is also very
susceptible to wear and damage, however the
advantages are that is cuts easily and quickly,
gives a good clean cut, and can cut through large
diameter timber. This type of circular saw cutting
mechanism is also very good at cutting multistemmed shrubs or trees such as coppice stools,
and can be found in the Bracke Forest C16.c (www.


Figure 5. Felling head with hydraulic tree shears, a Westtech Woodcracker C350

Figure 4. Felling head with integral circular saw, the Bracke Forest C16.c

Hydraulic tree shears: a third cutting mechanism

uses hydraulically-powered blades to slice through

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the ground, it will not cause any major damage to

the blades.
With this type of tree shears, the blade cuts against
a kind of anvil, and so this cutting mechanism is
less suitable for harvesting multi-stemmed trees
and shrubs. This is because the branches are
bunched together which causes damage, such as
splitting to the stump or stool. With older coppice
stools or larger multi-stemmed trees, it may be
necessary to cut the stems higher than actually
desired because there also needs to be room for
this large tree shear felling head to get in between
the stems. In this situation, the base of the
stems may need to be cut back to the stool with a

Stabilisation function
Some felling heads are able to hold the felled tree
upright and can then lay it down where desired.
This stabilisation function is only found in the
larger felling heads which are strong enough to
have full control over the direction of the felled
tree, such as the Westtech Woodcracker C550. In
forestry work it is often not necessary to have this
level of control, but with hedgerow work it can be
very useful, especially where space is limited so
that the tree can be laid down in another location
some distance away. Additionally when a tree is
laid down in a controlled manner there are fewer
broken branches to clear up from the fields as
compared to when trees are felled.

Accumulator function
All felling heads have at least one pair of arms
to hold the felled tree, however the larger felling
heads such as the Westtech Woodcracker C550 or
the Bracke Forest C16.c are generally equipped
with at least two pairs of arms which provide the
accumulator or feller-buncher function, enabling
a single felled stem to be held while grabbing and
holding more stems to be cut, before the whole
bundle of hedgerow material is set down. In some
cases this mechanism can be a real time saving
device, particularly when the trees need to be set
down in a different location from where they were
felled. However the various sets of arms take time
to open and close, so that sometimes it is faster to
just move the trees one by one.


Transporting the harvested whole-tree hedgerow
material before it is chipped is best avoided
because it is a very high volume material when
compared to the volume of woodchips it produces.
There are some machines available which can
compress or bale up the harvested hedgerow
material to transport it before chipping it, but the
processing costs will definitely rise if this additional process step is carried out.
A traditional timber lorry is designed to carry
cordwood; if it is used to transport brushwood or
whole-tree hedgerow material it would be very time
consuming to load all the material on. A machine
called a press-collector has been designed to solve
this problem however; it has folding sides which
compress the branch material down after it has
been stacked on. The press-collectors which are
currently available are unfortunately too wide to
operate on public roads, as they have been developed for use in forestry situations. New bespoke
made machines could however be adapted.
A felling head with a stabilisation function can also
carry whole trees across a (very) short distance
to another location. However, this results in significant losses in harvesting efficiency and hence
cost increases as a result. Whenever possible
the brushwood or whole-tree hedgerow material
should first be allowed to dry before it is chipped.
This is discussed in the section on Storage and


In forestry even more specialist machines are
available and used, which for example can fell
and manoeuvre whole trees, remove their side
branches and cut the trunk into pre-programmed
specific lengths. However most of these machines
are not sufficiently mobile to harvest hedgerows at
a landscape scale, and are very expensive to hire
or buy. In addition hedgerow trees are generally
not as straight and uniform as in woodlands, plus
they would not deal well with small multi-stemmed
shrubs, so that is impractical to use these
machines in the context of harvesting or coppicing


There are different methods and different machines which can be used for processing branches,
trees and whole-tree hedgerow material, each resulting in a different type and quality of woodchip.
This guide looks at shredding and chipping options,
but does not cover processing timber into logs
for firewood or any other timber products such as
fence posts or planks. It is very important to ensure
that the woodchip quality and the requirements of
the wood chip boiler are matched to each other.

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In the selection of an appropriate chipping

machine, there are a number of key considerations:
method of processing shredding, chipping with
a disc chipper, chipping with a drum chipper
manner of woodchip ejection
size of timber the chipper can process - intake
width and dimensions
intake mechanism design chains, rollers or
moving intake table

A shredder tears and splits the branches lengthwise. This produces fibrous long strips instead of
chunks or chips. This processing method is not
usually recommended for small-scale woodfuel
boilers, but is more appropriate when the shredded
timber is going to be composted.

As a result, more force can be exerted and larger

diameter timber can be chipped and at a higher
Aside from choosing a particular type of chipper,
various additional features are available which
need to be considered including:


When you have larger diameter timber to chip, and
it cannot be lifted, moved or fed into the chipper
easily by hand, then you need a crane-fed chipper.
What is important here is that the crane has
sufficient reach so that it can lift the trees from the
field, over the hedge and feed them straight into
the chipper that is working from the road.


Most manually fed chippers are disc chippers.
These are mostly smaller chippers usually used
by landscaping contractors which can take timber
up to approximately 20cm diameter. The cutting
blades are mounted on a rotating disc.



In this type of chipper the blades are axially

mounted on the shaft on a large rotating drum.

Figure 7. Hedgerow harvesting machine train working on a hedge in Bocholt,

East Belgium. Note the loading crane on the chipper and the 13m integral
woodchip hopper.



Figure 6. Drum chipper: Ufkes Greentec VC 942-13

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When chipping it is generally necessary to have

a second tractor with a trailer or container, such
as a hooklift bin, parked either behind or next to
the chipper in order to collect the woodchips. This
requires a second tractor driver, unless the chipper
operator moves the woodchip trailer when necessary. There are however some models of chippers
which have their own integral woodchip hopper
mounted on the same chassis as the chipper.
These usually operate using a high tip function,
which tips the woodchips into a larger trailer or
hooklift bin.
An integral woodchip hopper is a particularly
valuable feature when there is little space for


Depending on the space available, the harvested

whole-tree hedgerow material can either be stored
unchipped out in the field to air dry, or if chipped
first, it can be stored outside on an area of concrete
and covered with a breathable geotextile cover
such as Toptex, or inside in a well-ventilated
barn, where it can be left to dry naturally through
self-heating or actively dried through blowing
ambient or heated air through it.

Figure 8. The drum chipper is hidden behind the green hooklift bin, but the
13m integral woodchip hopper is being emptied into the 40m tractor-towed
hooklift bin.

a second tractor and trailer, or if there is only a

small amount of timber in any one location. The
time taken for the hopper to empty needs to be
considered, as this is dead chipping time, so for
large piles of wood it is more efficient to chip
directly into a trailer or hooklift bin rather than use
the woodchip hopper.


This method of natural drying through self-heating
is currently the most commonly used method to
dry woodchip. To use this method the woodchip
should be piled up on an area of concrete, either
under cover in a barn or covered with a breathable
geotextile cover such as Toptex. After a couple
of days, the woodchip starts heating up and the
temperature in the woodchip pile can eventually
get up to 65C. The heat generated within the pile

Careful thought needs to be given to transporting

woodchip because the transport costs can quickly
rise to a quarter of the total cost of harvesting and
processing hedgerow material. Due to the bulky,
high volume nature of woodchips (ie their low specific gravity), they need to be transported in large
40m containers or hooklift bins, 60m grain lorries
or 90m walking floor lorries in order to minimise
transport costs.


Woodchip should ideally be dry before it can be
used as woodfuel. When hedgerow material is
harvested during the winter and chipped shortly
afterwards when it is green, the woodchip moisture
content is 50% on average. In order to use woodchip as a fuel for heating, it needs to be dried down
to an average moisture content of 20-30%. This
is usually done by allowing the woodchip to dry
naturally, but there are other options.



Figure 9. Natural drying of woodchip through self-heating.

moves upwards creating convection currents and

setting up a natural drying process whereby the
moisture moves up through the pile and evaporates
from the surface. The water vapour exits from the
top of the pile where it condenses when it comes
into contact with the colder air. In order to keep
this condensation to a minimum it is important
to keep the surface area of the top of the pile as
small as possible. With this drying method it is
therefore very important that the woodchip pile has
a conical shape.
The conical shape means that the surface area to
volume ratio of the heap is as small as possible,
so that when the woodchip is dried outside under
a Toptex cover the surface area which is exposed

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to the rain is also minimised. The steep sides

also ensure that the rain runs down the cover
and off the heap rather than seeping through it.
Furthermore, it is advised not to turn the woodchip
pile as this will encourage composting.
This natural drying method through self-heating
works relatively well. If everything goes well , an
average moisture content of 30% or less can be
achieved in three months, but it can also take
more than six months if it is wet or humid. It does
however usually result in relatively high dry matter
losses. When the woodchip moisture content is
over 30%, there is on average a 3-5% loss of dry
matter per month as a result of the decomposition
which generates the heat. Over the whole 3-6
month drying process dry matter losses of 20% are
common, which equates to a 20% loss in calorific
value of the woodchip.
Other disadvantages of this drying method are that
the moisture content is generally not homogenous
and is often actually quite variable throughout the
woodchip pile. Mould can also form on the damp
woodchip producing fungal spores which can have
negative health effects if breathed in. If mould
does develop, it is recommended that a protective
dust mask be worn when loading or moving the



Fresh woodchip can also be dried by forced or

active drying. This can be done using ventilation
ducts or grills in the floor or using perforated
domes, like are used to dry and ventilate grain and

Figure 10. Woodchip being force dried in a hooklift bin container (left), and in a
concrete walled bay with a central air duct, (right)

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potatoes. Ambient air or heated air can be blown

through the woodchip to dry it. On a small scale,
forced drying can be done in hooklift bins with a
perforated floor through which the drying air is
In the Bocholt hedgerow harvesting trial area,
trials have been carried out where woodchips
have been force-dried using the residual heat
from a nearby biogas or anaerobic digestion plant.
Figure 10 shows the experimental woodchip drying
design: an open air concrete-walled bay with a
central air duct, through which the residual heat
is blown. Here the woodchips were completely
dry after five days, with a moisture content of less
than 20%. Using this drying process there was
no dry matter loss and no mould had developed.
Unfortunately no relevant data was available on
the electricity consumption of the fans. This was
because the fans operated on the basis of the
quantity of heat which the anaerobic digester
needed to dissipate, rather than the relatively
small amount of heat that the woodchips required
to be dried. The disadvantage of this experimental
woodchip drying design was the length of time
required to fill and empty the drying bay in proportion to the required drying time. In the future, it is
hoped that trials can be carried out with a conveyor
belt fed dryer, which should enable woodchip
drying to be done much more efficiently.
Further trials have recently been carried out into
the forced drying of woodchips in a hooklift bin
used as a drying container connected to a small
anaerobic digester. The hooklift bin has a double
floor and air supply vents have been built into the
rear doors. This small anaerobic digester produces
a lot less surplus heat, so drying is slower than
when connected to the large-scale anaerobic
digestion plant. The drying container can however
also be connected to large-scale biogas plants or
other sources of hot air, and several containers
of woodchip could be connected to a large plant
The big advantage of the hooklift bin system is
that it provides a complete hedge to customer
system. Hedgerow material can be chipped or
tipped directly into a fieldside hooklift bin, which
can then be towed straight to a drying installation
such as a local anaerobic digestion plant, where it



can be connected up and left until the woodchips

are dry, and then taken directly to the customer,
where it can be tipped into a woodchip store. The
hooklift bin drying system therefore minimises
the handling of the woodchips with regards to the
loading and emptying of the drying bays, which
in turn significantly reduces the drying cost and


therefore the overall production costs of hedgerow

woodchip. The one disadvantage of this drying
system is that the hooklift bin cant be used for any
other purpose, such as to transport the woodchip
from the field to the storage site, whilst it is being
used as a drying container, so it may be necessary
to buy several of them.
The investment in a woodchip drying system needs
to weigh up the loss of dry matter through natural
drying by self-heating against the amount of work
required to load and unload the woodchip in order
to actively dry it. Another challenge is to monitor
the moisture content of the pile as the woodchip
dries. To date, only devices which continuously
monitor the temperature of the woodchip have
been found, but not those which will continuously
monitor the moisture content. Certainly when
drying woodchip quickly (and expensively) it is very
important to monitor the moisture content and
stop drying as soon as the woodchip is at the right
moisture content.
In addition to this, Inagro an agricultural research
organisation in West Flanders, has also carried out
research into drying woodchip, They have evaluated
three different woodchip drying methods:
The first method looked at naturally drying


Proefopzet geforceerd drogen in droogcontainer.

Figure 11. Inagros woodchip drying trials: Natural drying in a well-ventilated

barn (above); Natural drying outside under Toptex (middle) and Forced drying
in a container with unheated ambient air (under).

woodchip through self-heating outside under a

breathable geotextile cover (Toptex) in a trench
silo or open air concrete walled bay.
The second method was also naturally drying
woodchip through self-heating, but in a well-ventilated barn with a concrete floor.

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The third method was forced drying of woodchip

in a container with unheated ambient air being
blown through it.

% Droge stof

Each week the average moisture content of the

woodchip was measured for each of the drying
methods. The weekly sampling results found that
the rate of drying for the three methods was not
significantly different (see Figure 12 below). This

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23 /02

5 /03 13/03 19/03 30/03 7/04 15/04 20/04 12/05

datum staalname

Figure 12: This graph represents the woodchip drying process over time,
and shows the average rate of drying of the woodchip for the three drying
methods. Percentage dry matter is shown on the y axis and the woodchip
moisture content sampling dates are shown on the x axis.

showed that woodchip does not dry any more

quickly when actively ventilated with unheated
ambient air. The graph below shows the course
of the woodchip drying process on the basis of
the average moisture content results of the three
tested drying methods.
Forced drying or active ventilation with ambient
(outside) air does help to limit the loss of dry
matter. With active ventilation there was virtually
no heating up of the woodchip. As a result, the
dry matter losses were 3-11% lower than with the
other drying methods (see Table 1 below).
Table1. This table summarises the advantages and disadvantages of the
three woodchip drying methods trialled by Inagro.
Breathable TOPTEX

In a barn

In a container with
a fan


Low investment costs

Low dry matter losses


Low dry matter losses

Clearly less fungal
spores and mould


High dry matter losses

Lots of fungal spores
and mould

High investment
costs (3.5x more than
Lots of fungal spores
and mould

High investment
costs (4x more than

10 agrobeheercentrum Eco2

From an energy expenditure perspective, drying

woodchip in a barn (with or without forced
ventilation) is the preferred method. However
when viewed in financial terms, it is noted that the
advantageous lower dry matter losses are offset
in part by the higher investment costs required to
dry woodchip in a barn (whether with or without
ventilation). Based on the current sale price for
woodchips (85/tonne or 61.20/tonne), the financial gain of drying woodchip in a barn is limited to
3/tonne or 2.16/tonne of dry wood chips.
Furthermore, it was not clear whether the woodchips which were force dried in a container with
active ventilation had a more uniform moisture
Further information on these woodchip drying
trials and the guidance and results that came out
of them can be found in the Results section of the
TWECOM website:
An important consideration is that in order to dry
woodchip in a barn, it needs to be a well-ventilated
barn with open sides or ends. It is very important
that the wind can blow through the barn so that the
moisture which exits from the top of the woodchip
pile can evaporate.


If you have enough space, you can leave the harvested whole-tree hedgerow material in the field
to dry for a few months before chipping. Depending
on the diameter of the timber and the species of
wood this may give very good results. Using this
method, you can produce dry woodchip straight
from the field without any risk of mould or fungi
forming. Renting part of a field from the farmer for
a few months is cheaper than renting a concrete
yard or barn. This method was also trialled in the
UK by The Organic Research Centre.
Chipping dry hedgerow material or timber may
however result in higher fuel use and wear and
tear on the chipper. This may especially be the case
when chipping hardwoods such as oak and acacia,
for which this technique may not advisable. If the
wood is left to dry for too long, the woodchip quality
may be disappointing as the timber may shatter
and break rather than be cut into nice clean good
quality woodchip.
Further information on these hedgerow harvesting

trials and the guidance and full results that came

out of them can be found on the TWECOM page
of The Organic Research Centre website: http://




In order to obtain uniform woodchip, it may be

necessary or desirable to sieve or screen the
woodchip. This is best done when the woodchips
are dried, so that any fines or soil do not stick to

types of sieve or screen are available on the

market: drum screen, shaker or vibrating screens
and star screens.
agrobeheercentrum Eco in Leuven, Belgium has
carried out trials screening hedgerow woodchip
with a shaker or vibrating screen. This had two
screens with 20mm and 40mm diameter perforations, one above the other. In this trial 118m of
woodchips was screened at a cost of 2.75/m or
8.25/tonne (1.98/m or 5.94/tonne), see Table
2 below. It is possible that this screening process
could be further optimised so that it is more
efficient and cost-effective.

Figure 13. Woodchip screening trial in Bocholt using a shaker screen.

Table2. Woodchip screening trial results. Hedgerow woodchip particle
size distribution after screening.
Particle size



Nice woodchip





percentage (%)








the woodchip but are removed. It is better to keep

the woodchip clean and avoid getting any soil
on them by making sure the hedgerow material
stays as clean as possible before it is chipped and
keeping the yard clean and tidy.
It is also important to choose the right chipper and
to keep the blades nice and sharp, so that the size
of the woodchip is optimised and the proportion of
fines and long shards is minimised. Three different

agrobeheercentrum Eco2 11


Figure 14. A hedge-rich landscape in the Bocholt district of Limburg for which a
landscape-scale hedgerow vision plan has been produced by Regionaal Landschap Lage Kempen (RLLK).


One of the TWECOM projects hedgerow harvesting
trial areas was the Bocholt district in the North
Limburg province of Belgium. In this area there are
more than 70km of local authority owned roadside
hedgerows; these hedges are now more like lines
of mature trees, consisting primarily of 40-60 year
old oak trees, which form avenues along the roads.
For several decades the only kind of maintenance
has been the high pruning of the lower branches in
order to keep the roads clear.
Now the objective is to bring a large proportion of
the hedgerow network in the Bocholt pilot area
into coppice management, harvesting 5km of
hedges annually on a rotation of approximately 10
years. A landscape-scale hedgerow vision plan
has been produced for this pilot area by Regionaal

12 agrobeheercentrum Eco2

Landschap Lage Kempen (RLLK), a regional landscape organisation in Flanders, and is supported
by all the relevant stakeholders. As part of this
trial, all the necessary felling licences and permissions have been applied for at a landscape scale.


It is often recommended that for each individual
hedge no more than one third of the total length is
harvested each year, so that there is no significant
impact on the biodiversity or the landscape. As
most hedges arent that long, it doesnt pay to hire
in a machine to harvest a single section of hedge.
If however hedges are managed on a landscape
scale, then it becomes feasible to harvest several
different sections of hedgerow at once, as part of
the same contract.
Hedgerow harvesting can be further optimised by
matching up the volume of timber to be harvested

from hedgerow lengths to the capacity of the

woodchip hopper on the chipper. Timber from
approximately 70m of hedgerow just about fills
the 13m hopper. When three or four similar 70m
sections of hedge are harvested in the same area,
they are likely to fill the 40m hooklift bin. These
hedgerow sections need to be within 1km of the
parked hooklift bin to minimise the chipper operators driving time. For hedges further afield, the
hooklift bin needs to be moved.


The hedgerow harvesting trials in Bocholt district
were of a completely different scale and nature
to those carried out in the UK. This trial did not
so much involve hedgerow coppicing work, but
mature tree felling work, hence heavy large-scale
machinery was used. The machinery selected for
harvesting the roadside hedgerows and processing
and transporting the hedgerow material in Bocholt
district included:


Excavator: A 16-tonne wheeled excavator was used

because all of the hedges to be harvested were
accessible from the road, but scattered across the
district. It was therefore important that the excava-

Felling head: A Westtech Woodcracker C350 felling

head with hydraulic tree shears was used. These
tree shears can cut trees up to a diameter of
35cm, and are particularly suited for felling large
single-stemmed trees, which are prevalent in the
hedges of Bocholt. It also has a stabiliser function
so that the trees can be held upright once felled
and laid down where needed.
This combination of wheeled excavator and tree
shears felling head are particularly suitable for
managing over-mature hedgerows, where large
trees need to be felled or harvested. At the start
of the next coppice cycle, which is expected to be
approximately ten to fifteen years, it is likely that a
smaller and lighter excavator with a different type
of felling head will be more appropriate to harvest
the smaller diameter, multi-stemmed regrowth
from the tree stumps.
Chipper: An Ufkes Greentec 942/13 crane-fed
drum chipper was used which produces very good
quality woodchip. This chipper has side intake
rollers, which means that trees with protruding
branches or bushy hedgerow material can be
fed into the chipper more easily. This model with
only the very basic intake tray (without chains or
a moving intake table) was chosen because if the
intake mechanism breaks it could cause enormous
damage to the chipper or the surrounding area as
a result of the metal shrapnel which would be pro-

tor could drive from one hedge to another under its

own steam, rather than having to be transported.
A relatively large and heavy excavator was needed
because most of the hedges were over-mature and
had formed lines of large mature trees, which were
approximately 4m apart, 6-8m high and 40-60cm
in diameter, and so the excavator had to be able to
handle large trees without tipping over.


Figure 15. A 16 tonne wheeled excavator with Westtech Woodcracker C350 tree
shears felling head

Figure 17. An Ufkes Greentec VC 942-13 crane-fed drum chipper with integral
woodchip hopper

duced. The chipper is also equipped with a loading

crane and a 13m3 integral woodchip hopper which
operates using a hydraulic high tip mechanism

agrobeheercentrum Eco2 13

After two months, so by May the rest of the woodchip pile was sufficiently well dry at 25% and the
heap was covered with a breathable Toptex cover.


The harvested hedges in Bocholt district yielded
approximately 60kg of fresh timber per linear
metre of hedge. The hedgerow harvesting costs for
the Bocholt trials, which included felling, chipping
and transport to the woodchip store totalled approximately 3/m or 2.16/m (see Table 4 below).
As a result of harvesting 2km of hedgerow in 2015,
120 tonnes of fresh woodchip with a moisture
content of 50% was produced. This theoretically
equates to 86.3 tonnes at 30% moisture content,
however if a 20% dry matter loss from natural
drying is taken into account, this results in 69
tonnes of dry woodchip. At a market value of 85/
tonne, this represents a gross income from hedgerow woodchip production of 2.86/m or 2.05/m,
excluding the costs of woodchip storage and drying
and transport to the customer.


Through the hedgerow harvesting trials in Bocholt,

it has been found that it works best when the
wheeled excavator with felling head arrives on site
first to fell and lay down or stack the trees. Several
hours or days later the chipper is brought to site,
and with its crane cleans up and chips all of the
harvested hedgerow material. The rate of felling
and chipping is variable and depends on the hedge,
which is why it is preferable if the harvesting and
chipping machines are not both working on the
same hedge at the same time.
Transporting the woodchip: The woodchip is
transported using a tractor and a hooklift bin
system mounted on a trailer chassis. The hooklift
bin can be set down and left near to where the
hedges are being harvested and chipped, so the
tractor driver doesnt need to stay with it. The
chipper chips into its integral hopper, which is then
intermittently emptied into the lowered hooklift bin.
The woodchip is generally stockpiled and stored on
an area of concrete (often an old silage clamp) on a
local farm, and so the woodchip usually only has to
be transported 5km at the most.

55% vocht
29% vocht

20% vocht

Figure 18. Hooklift bin container system towed behind a tractor

Drying the woodchip: The woodchip was dried

naturally through self-heating by stockpiling it in a
conically-shaped heap on an area of concrete. The
hedgerow trees were harvested in mid-March 2015
and chipped pretty much straight away; the woodchip was left uncovered due to the dry weather.
At the end of April the wet layer of woodchip was
removed from the top of the heap (see Figure 19
below) and taken to be actively dried in a hooklift
bin connected to a small biogas installation. This
wet woodchip was dried in the hooklift bin from
55% down to 20% moisture content in one week.

14 agrobeheercentrum Eco2

Figure 19. This diagram represents the distribution of moisture content in

the pile of woodchip on 25-04-15. (Vocht means moisture content)
Tabel 3 Time taken to harvest, chip and transport 120 tonnes of hedgerow

hours chipping


tonne/hour chipping


hours harvesting


tonne/hour harvesting


hours transporting


tonne/hour transporting

The production cost (felling, chipping and transporting) of fresh hedgerow woodchip was approximately 55/tonne or 39.60/tonne. This production
cost increases to 77/tonne or 55.44/tonne when
the woodchip is dried to 30% moisture content, not
taking into account any dry matter losses

Table4. Hedgerow woodchip yield and production costs in Bocholt from trials in 2014 and 2015.
Hedgerow length (m)

Fresh woodchip production


Woodchip production (kg/m)

Woodchip production cost (/m

& /m)

Theoretical gross income (/m

& /m)

Bocholt hedges 2014




3.30 & 2.38

2.64 & 1.90

Bocholt hedges 2015




3.08 & 2.22

2.86 &2.05

Table5. Breakdown of hedgerow woodchip production costs in Euros in Bocholt from trials in 2014 and 2015
Total production cost (/tonne)

Harvesting cost

Chipping cost (/tonne)

Transport cost

Bocholt hedges 2014





Bocholt hedges 2015





Table6. Breakdown of hedgerow woodchip production costs in Pound sterling in Bocholt from trials in 2014 and 2015
Total production cost (/tonne)

Harvesting cost

Chipping cost (/tonne)

Transport cost

Bocholt hedges 2014





Bocholt hedges 2015





Table7. Breakdown of timber harvesting yield in Limburg Province and production costs in Euros
Woodchip yield

Woodchip production cost

length (m)

Fresh woodchip
yield (tonne)


Total woodchip
production cost

Total woodchip
production cost


cost (/


Transport cost
(% of total
production cost)

Felling Broekkantstraat poplars in Peer










Felling Broekstraat avenue of trees in Peer










Coppicing work on a railway embankment in Genk 1147









Hedgerow harvesting in Bocholt 2014










Hedgerow harvesting in Bocholt 2015










Hedgerow harvesting in Velm










Felling and clearing work in Helchterhoef parish







Harvesting a plantation

2 hectare





Riverbank coppicing in Houthalen










Hedgerow coppicing in Tongeren





















However, the costs for storage, drying and

transport of the woodchip to the customer, and potentially the cost of screening, must be calculated
and included before the total and final hedgerow
woodchip production cost is known. At the moment
it is not possible to carry out a full cost analysis,
but the first estimates are that 20-25/tonne or
14.40-18.00/tonne appears realistic for drying and
transporting the woodchip.
The woodchip production cost includes harvesting,
chipping and transport costs.
Euros have been converted to Pound sterling
using the mid-market exchange rate of 1 = 0.72
from 27-10-2015 taken from


In addition to the hedgerow harvesting trials in
Bocholt district, other timber harvesting operations
have been carried out in other parts of the Limburg
province. This table presents the production costs
of harvesting timber from those sites, including
embankments in Genk and Tongeren and a sunken
holloway in Velm.

agrobeheercentrum Eco2 15

West Flanders is a very flat and intensively cultivated area of polder with few hedges or woods,
described here as landscape elements. There are
however lots of rows of the native black or common
alder trees (Alnus glutinosa) which are growing
along the water courses. During the development
of a land consolidation plan in Lo-Reninge
and Woesten districts eight years ago, a lot of
consideration was given to the management and
maintenance of existing small landscape elements,
as well as to the planting and management of new
ones such as the alder rows. At this time, about
5.5km of new alder rows were planted alongside
drainage ditches and field margins across the
area. These trees are now approximately8 years
old,1.5m apart, 8m high and 12-15cm in diameter.
As the alder trees had started to shade farmers
crops, a management regime was required to
cut them back to prevent shading the adjacent
fields. The plan was to introduce a coppice rotation
management system and harvest these rows of
alder trees on an eight to twelve year cycle. Once
these single-stemmed trees have been felled in the
initial round of management, they will grow back
as multi-stemmed alder coppice.

1,5 km

1,5 km

1,2 km

1,3 km

In order to seek the most cost-effective, and in the

future possibly profitable, management of these
alder rows, Inagro were asked to work with the
different stakeholders in the area. The districtsof
Lo-Reninge and Vleteren, the Zuidijzerpolder and
the regional landscape Ijzer en Polder were all
involved as owners of alder rows. To make this

16 agrobeheercentrum Eco2

management of the alder rows work and be as

profitable as posssible, a market for this locally
harvested timber was required. Various farmers in
the region have woodfuel boilers that burn woodchip to heat their greenhouses and pig and poultry
barns, and they were also involved in this project as
potential woodchip customers.




Figure 20. An alder row in the land redistribution area of Lo-Reninge

Until recently, these alder rows have been

managed in a very disorganised and disjointed
manner. If farmers wanted, they could harvest the
rows of trees adjoining their property and take the
wood for their own personal use. The drawbacks of
this system were that there was no way of knowing
when certain strips were going to be harvested or
whether the work would be carried out to a good
standard. For those alder rows where the person
responsible for their management couldnt be
found, the felling work was done using social employment In these instances, the management was
very expensive and no consideration was given to
the valorization or sale of the wood to reduce the
net management costs.
It was therefore decided that a concrete management plan would be produced and a co-ordinated
and efficient approach taken to management of the
alder rows. Every two years approximately 30% of
the alder rows will be harvested, and after eight
years the coppice harvesting cycle will begin again.
This system ensures the sustainable long-term
management of the alder rows.

This management system has several advantages:

A concrete management plan allows for better
management: this makes it clear when each

woodchip is three times higher than that of fresh

woodchip. The woodchip was dried in a grain store
using a forced ventilation system, ie. fans. After
about three months the woodchip was dry enough
(approx. 30%) to be sold to a local farmer with a
woodfuel boiler at 85/tonne or 61.20/tonne (dry
woodchip market price in Flanders in summer
2015 based on 30% moisture content).


In both 2014 and 2015, the alder row harvesting
cost per linear metre was calculated at approximately 2.68/m or 1.93/m. The value of the
harvested wood can of course be offset against
these management costs; in Flanders in summer

alder row is ready to harvest and when it will be

harvested. Management is therefore easier to
Phased harvesting: this avoids significant landscape change in any one area
One contractor: this makes it easier to manage
the harvesting work
Professional management: the quality of the
alder row management work is guaranteed and
the process is standardised
Efficient use of woody biomass in high-efficiency
woodfuel boilers
Local sale and use of the biomass: this limits
transport costs and fuel use
Cost effective: drying the woodchip allows it to be
sold at the market price for dry woodchip (up to
3x higher than market price of fresh woodchip)
Good woodchip quality: this is ensured by monitoring the whole process




For the harvesting of the alder rows, Inagro worked

with a local contractor working on behalf of
Agro|aanneming. The alder trees were harvested
using excavator-mounted hydraulic tree shears,
and cut approximately 30cm from the ground.
The whole trees were chipped with a large drum

Figure 21. Whole-tree alder row material being chipped using a crane-fed drum

Through drying the woodchip produced, it was

possible to reduce the net management cost of the
alder rows. This is because the sale price of dry

The resultant woodchip being force dried with fans in a grain store container.

2015 this was about 85/tonne or 61.20/tonne

(based on 30% moisture content). As a result of
harvesting a total of 1200m of alder row, over 50
tonnes of fresh woodchip was produced, which
equates to 41.7kg of fresh wood per metre. This
equates to more than 33 tonnes of dry wood (30%)
having been harvested, resulting in a gross income
of 2.34/m or 1.68/m.
In addition, it is necessary to take into account
the additional costs for drying and transporting
the woodchip. Respectively these costs are 9.03/
tonne or 6.50/tonne for drying the woodchip and
9.27/tonne or 6.67/tonne for transporting the
woodchip. The income received from the sale of
dried woodchip is more than sufficient to cover the
drying and transport costs and will even partially
cover the management costs. The total cost of the
alder row management work is reduced by about

agrobeheercentrum Eco2 17

75% through the sale of dried woodchip. If you

compare the residual or net cost of the alder row
management work (the outstanding 25%) to the
price that was formerly paid for this management
work, the result is that co-ordinated management
is achieved for a 65% reduction in price.


The 33 tonnes of dried woodchip harvested from
the alder rows in 2015 was sold and delivered to
an interested local farmer where it was burned
in high-efficiency biomass boiler installations
for heating livestock sheds and greenhouses.
Woodchip harvested from 1.5km of alder row is approximately equivalent to 15,000 litres of kerosene
heating oil. In the immediate vicinity of the alder
rows there are two pig farmers, a carnation grower
and a veal rearing unit, all of whom heat their
barns and greenhouses with woodchips.


Although a significant reduction in the alder row
management costs was achieved, the districts
involved, the Zuidijzerpolder and the regional
landscape of Ijzer en Polder, still need to make a
limited financial contribution to the management
of the alder rows. Inagro believes that in the near
future it is possible that the maintenance of the
alder rows will become cost-neutral.
On the one hand, Inagro strives to seek more
cost-effective woodchip storage and drying
methods. On the other hand Inagro also wants to
increase woodchip yield per linear metre of alder
row, by increasing the length of the coppice rotation cycle, from 8 years to perhaps 12 years.
We can also expect a higher productivity of the
alder hedgerows in their subsequent coppice
rotations. Research has suggested that the yield
from the first coppice harvest is generally less
productive than from subsequent coppice rotations,
by which time the alder should grow bigger and
faster due to the well-established root system. A
further increase in the average sale price of quality
woodchip in the future, for example to 100/tonne
or 72/tonne (as in Brittany, France) would ensure
that hedgerow management becomes cost-ef-

18 agrobeheercentrum Eco2

fective or cost-neutral and possibly marginally

All involved parties were very enthusiastic about
this alder hedgerow management system and
would like to continue to develop and optimise this
management in the future.
Further information on these alder row harvesting
and woodchip storage and drying trials, and the
results and recommendations that came out of
them can be found on the TWECOM website: www.


Figure 23. Recently coppiced alder row in West Flanders


In a cyclical coppice rotation management system
where each hedgerow is harvested approximately
every ten years, it is also necessary to carry out
certain maintenance tasks such as cutting back
roadside branches in the intervening period
between coppicing. This hedgerow maintenance
is necessary to maintain a healthy and vigorous
hedge, but also to prevent any problems arising
with neighbouring landowners.


Where there are gaps in the harvested hedgerows
of more than 4 metres, they will be planted or
gapped up with coppice species at 0.5m spacing.
This gapping up can be done in the autumn immediately after harvesting or coppicing.
Once harvested tree stumps or coppice stools
have had two growing seasons to grow back, the
extent and vigour of the coppice regrowth will be
checked. Particularly where large over-mature
hedgerow trees have been coppiced, it is common
for these tree stumps not to re-grow or for there to
be very little coppice regrowth. In this situation, if
there are no other trees or shrubs adjacent which
can grow up and create a nice thick hedge which

will produce a good woodfuel harvest, then it will

be necessary to gap up these sections of hedge.
Research is needed into what methods can be used
to increase the survival rate of the newly planted
trees and shrubs.


From those hedgerow trees which are not
coppiced, it might be possible to produce quality
wood. Timber stems need to meet a large number
of criteria in order to be considered as high quality
wood: a straight, branch-free trunk without
damage is usually required. High quality stems
like this dont automatically grow in a hedgerow
situation. The abundantly available light stimulates
side branch growth in all directions; quite different
from in a woodland environment. Good formative
pruning is therefore needed in the first few years
after planting new hedgerow trees, and should be
done very judiciously. Specialist pruning courses
which cover tree pruning and formative pruning
are available at various horticultural and forestry
schools, including Inverde in Belgium and the RHS
in the UK.

agrobeheercentrum Eco2 19


Figure 24. Coppice regrowth from a roadside hedgerow in the Bocholt district of
North Limburg in Belgium.

The TWECOM Project provided the opportunity to
thoroughly research the management, harvest and
ongoing maintenance of hedgerows for woodfuel
energy, and to look in depth at the specific challenges that this entails. Although many research
papers have been written on the harvesting of wood
for energy, they rarely go into any depth regarding
the management of hedgerows for woodfuel. In particular, very little seems to have been written about
the holistic approach to hedgerow management
developed through TWECOM, which considers both
the economic and the ecological considerations.
This project shows that hedgerow management for
woodfuel only fully covers the woodchip production
costs under very favourable circumstances. This is
particularly the case when the price of traditional
fossil fuels is low. This type of hedgerow management may be economically marginal, but it is
important that hedgerow owners are not deterred
from engaging with hedgerow management. The
additional landscape and biodiversity benefits are
significant, and need to be taken into consideration
when assessing the merits of reinstating an active
hedgerow management system. .
The alder row harvesting trials in West Flanders
demonstrate that when you have the opportunity to
plant completely new hedges in good accessible lo-

20 agrobeheercentrum Eco2

cations, the economics are much more favourable

and the system is near break-even. This is because
when a hedge has been well designed it can be
harvested more efficiently.
There are however quite a few unanswered
questions which remain after the TWECOM Project.
The three year project lifespan was still not long
enough to gain experience of the interim maintenance and management of hedgerow coppice regrowth between harvesting cycles, such as gapping
up hedgerows, pruning hedgerow trees to produce
quality wood, and pruning or side-trimming hedges
back to keep roads clear.
More research needs to be carried out into the
storage, drying and screening of woodchips. It is
incredibly satisfying and energetically efficient
when problems can be solved by making use
of waste products from other processes, such
as using waste heat from biogas plants to dry
woodchip. In this situation, it appears that forced
or active drying of woodchip is cost-effective
compared to natural drying through self-heating
because there are no dry matter losses.
We can conclude that when appropriate machines
and processes are used, hedges can indeed be
harvested to produce a local, renewable, sustainable and carbon-neutral source of woodfuel.

For further information on Harvesting hedgerows for woodfuel, please go to the Results section of the
TWECOM website:

Here you will find further information about:

The hedgerow harvesting machinery trials carried out by The Organic Research Centre in the UK in
A guide to harvesting woodfuel from hedges, produced by The Organic Research Centre in
September 2015.
The alder row harvesting and woodchip drying trials carried out by Inagro in West Flanders,
Belgium in 2014-15.
The Green Heat publication produced by Inagro in 2015.
The TWECOM page of the Organic Research Centre website, is also
a useful resource where you will find many documents relating to hedegrow woodfuel, including the
Biodiversity protocol.
Include links to RLLK and the Hedgerow vision plan, DIPLA

This guide has been produced based on the experiences, knowledge and findings gained from hedgerow harvesting machinery trials carried out under the TWECOM Project. These were carried out by
agrobeheercentrum Eco2 and Inagro in Belgium and by The Organic Research Centre in the UK.
This best practice guide has been written by Kathleen Bervoets, agrobeheercentrum Eco Cordinator
and Pieter Verdonckt from Inagro, with contributions from Meg Chambers and Mary Crossland from
The Organic Research Centre, UK. It was translated into English by Meg Chambers. Many thanks to
Benny Vangansewinkel and the farmer-contractors from Agro|aanneming who carried out the hedgerow harvesting work and shared their expertise in making these trials work.
The production of this best practice guide has been possible thanks to funding from INTERREG IVB
NWE through the TWECOM Project and the province of Limburg.

September 2015
Kathleen Bervoets - Cordinator ABC Eco

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