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Hand-tools vs Machines

Posted: Thursday 8th January 2015 by The Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust

Hand tools and Machines - Ed MarshallHand tools and Machines - Ed Marshall

Volunteer Ranger Abbie Pailing talks us through some of the methods of land management that are used by the Isles of Scilly Wildlife Trust, and discusses the pro's and con's of each.


There can be a lot of debate over whether using machinery or hand tools is the best way to manage the land. On Scilly there are lots of different factors which help the Trust decide whether hand tools or machines would be used. Machines can obviously manage a much larger area as they can clear bigger spaces, but they do have negatives. Both noise pollution and air pollution occurs when using machines such as brushcutters or tractors and these can disturb both the public and the local wildlife. The importance of Scilly’s archaeology can also influence what tools are used; using machines could damage the archaeological sites, but they may need machines to uncover the basic site in order to clear it properly with hand tools. Finally the topography of the islands can also make it difficult to use machines with there being large steep slopes and cliff edges. Natural rock can damage machines which also reduces the areas that can be cleared with them. However, using hand tools all the time, to protect wildlife and archaeology would make it extremely difficult to manage the 64% of Scilly the trust manages. Therefore the machines are used to do the large areas which need to be managed, with hand tools or smaller machines exposing the harder areas to clear.


Within the wildlife trust here on Scilly there is a large mix of hand tools and machinery that is used to manage the land. The main machines are brushcutters, tractors, chainsaws and commanders. Brushcutters are used to clear footpaths of excess vegetation and commanders are used to clear larger areas of land. Loppers, bow saws, rakes and scythes are all hand tools which are used on a regular basis. There is room for a lot of debate over whether hand tools or machines are better for land management, but the trust here uses a mix to optimise their output. Large machines like the commanders make light work of big areas of bracken which need to be cut, however there are certain areas the commander cannot access, and so brushcutters or scythes are used.

However scythes are a hand tool that the trust use to tackle certain areas of bracken rather than using one of the aforementioned machines. These areas tend to be close to cliff edges and cannot be accessed by machines or the slope and topography makes it unfeasible to use machinesWhen using scythes, many passers-by comment on how good it is to see hand tools being used over loud and aggressive machinery. Scythes wouldn't cut through gorse or thick bramble though, and that's where brushcutters would become the preferred choice of tool.


Chainsaws 'vs.' loppers and bow saws have a similar argument, that chainsaws can process a fallen tree with tremendous speed, but with enough man power and sharpened hand tools, using loppers and bow saws can see the tree be processed just as quickly.

Each task is different and therefore different tools much be used, whether they are machinery or hand tools. It's very easy to pick speed over quality but when working in a place as special as Scilly the wildlife and public have to be considered and therefore sometimes quiet hand tools are much better than loud machines.


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