Mark Chapman, Cornwall

It’s a mark of the finish left behind by his pair of Shelbourne Reynolds Powerblade hedge trimmers that, when working for his local council, Cornish contractor Mark Chapman is often to match up rough grass areas to those cut by their mower teams.   

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“They’re happy that there’s very little difference in the finish left between the mowers and our machines on rough grass areas,” says Mark, who runs an HD775 VFRT alongside a 656.

Of his total hedge trimming workload, which has been built up almost solely by word of mouth rather than advertising, council work makes up a sizeable proportion of the hours the two trimmers accumulate each season. Aside from a couple of months off during October and November, they are busy almost all year round, trimming undergrowth and rough ground when not cutting hedges. Farm hedges make up the bulk of the work, though, and Mark covers a sizeable area of north Cornwall between the towns of Launceston, Wadebridge, Bodmin and Callington.

But it’s only recently that his machines have been judged good enough to trim around the carefully-manicured grassed areas across the local council land. That’s come about with a change in his favoured make, to Shelbourne Reynolds, which began when he bought one of the first VFRT (variable forward reach telescopic) machine to be retailed.

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“I previously ran models of another make, but when they came due for replacement, my local Shelbourne dealer Andrew Symons offered me a demo of a Shelbourne HD770 T, the first time I had tried a machine with a telescopic boom.

“I was really impressed with it, and decided to place an order, but it happened that Shelbourne was just about to launch the VFRT, which also offered variable forward reach. I had the opportunity to buy one of the first machines off the line.”

Since delivery in early 2014, his HD775 VFRT has been used with a Massey Ferguson 6480 to tackle the heaviest and most demanding jobs on his rounds, and those requiring the longest reach.

“It needs a decent-sized tractor to handle it, but then it’s capable of handling very big jobs,” suggests Mark.

“We put the MF’s wheels in narrow to fit easily around our lanes, but we make sure we weight the tractor properly. It handles the hedge trimmer well and they make a good pairing. This is the only machine that can trim some of the local council’s steep banks.”

After just a few months, Mark was sufficiently impressed with the design and build of the HD775 VFRT to take a decision on investing in another machine to take on more work.

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“I had little hesitation in changing it for another Shelbourne Powerblade. What I wanted was a smaller, lighter machine to work with our MF 6475 for more general work, so I bought a Powerblade 656. It has the same hydraulic system and rotor as my other trimmer, while the digital proportional electronic joystick is also identical, which is a good thing, as it’s nice to use and there’s no need to get used to another way of operating the machine if having to switch between the two.”

Small details matter a lot when spending long hours in the cab, says Mark, and the joystick’s design and layout, the materials it and the armrest are made from, and the overall fit and finish, are rated highly.

“It makes either of the trimmers a pleasure to operate. The 775 works for ten months of the year, and the 656 for 6-8 months, so it’s important whoever is behind the wheel is comfortable, and that the machines are reliable.”

Competition flails are Mark’s favoured types for general use, but with the length of time between cuts being extended in many circumstances, he is finding that heavier units are needed for some work.

“We switch to T-flails in winter to enable us to handle heavy three-year growth, while on some council hedges we’ve been asked to cut there’s some very thick five-year growth. The Shelbourne flails and the machine in general have coped well though.”

Both farm and council customers can be demanding, points out Mark, but the impression left behind is his advert for both services and helps to ensure he gets called back.  

“The Shelbourne machines both leave a much neater finish, and there’s much less evidence of debris flying about. We find we don’t need to run window guards on the tractor, as the head design means we’re not throwing debris at its side.

“Having bought early production models in both cases, we expected a few niggles, but Shelbourne and our dealer have never let us down and supported us well. The build quality on both the 656 and the 775 is very good, and I’m sure we’ll be sticking with Shelbourne the next time we come to trade in a trimmer.” 

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