Environmental focus pays off for AMD Contract Services

Fraser Dykes and Vicky Ferguson

DUMFRIES-based AMD Contract Services is reaping the rewards after investing heavily in equipment and personnel to capitalise on the increasing number of environmental projects cropping up around the country.

The firm has become a prominent player in the thriving peatland restoration sector and is also taking on more riverbank repairs and maintenance and greenbanking projects.

Much of the success in this field is being driven by civil and environmental engineer Vicky Ferguson, who joined AMD just over three years ago. The business has since secured major contracts from the likes of Forestry and Land Scotland, and with tens of thousands of hectares of land due to be restored across Scotland in the coming years, the future looks extremely bright.

“I came along at a little bit of a turning point in the business where they were looking at doing more environmental work,” Vicky told Project Plant. “There were some big peatland restoration contracts coming up and more green works.

“(The environmental focus) has been really good for us. Peatland restoration works towards net zero because when you restore the peat, you capture the carbon in the ground and prevent it leaving.

“Our operators already had a foundation in forestry. Working in that environment, with the changing conditions, gives them a grounding for being able to work on uneven ground. A lot of the restoration we’re doing is forest to bog. Our operators are used to working around tree stumps, furrows, bridges. They’re used to the undulating environment. Mounding in particular gives them a really good grounding because mounding notoriously is on steep and peaty hillsides.”

AMD MD Fraser Dykes explained that the firm first got involved in peatland restoration when an opportunity arose to work with ScottishPower Renewables. To satisfy the demands of the work, significant investment has been made in machinery.

“We initially invested in Hitachi wide-spread 14-tonne machines,” Fraser said. “We’ve now bought a 20-tonne JCB 245XR – with another in the pipeline. The zero tail-swing centralises all your weight distribution. With the wide-spread undercarriage, the majority of your weight is in the centre of the undercarriage. The way I explain it to people is that it’s like standing up in the middle of a boat. It’s more balanced on the peat bog.”

Most of the peatland restoration work AMD is involved in is categorised as ‘forest to bog’ restoration, which brings its own unique challenges.

Vicky revealed that, unless you know what you’re doing, the site can turn into a complete quagmire.

“You dig the stump up, turn it over, push it into the ground, and block every drain on the site,” she added. “What was a lovely, well drained forest site quickly turns into a swamp. Over time, the water table will drop. At that point in time, where we raise the water table, you need to know what you’re doing so you don’t bog the machine. A lot of peatland restoration that’s done in the uplands is hagg reprofiling, ditch reprofiling, peat dams. Forest to bog, although sometimes incorporates that, largely requires a different skillset that we’ve really leaned into. Our machines have raised undercarriages and widened tracks. When you have that really unstable peat ground after you’ve dug it all up, they nearly float. I think my favourite fact is they exert less pressure on the ground than a ballerina!”

AMD operators have attended training days with the likes of Peatland ACTION, but Vicky revealed that, until they’re out on site, it is impossible to tell who will take to it and who won’t.

“We have a few operators who have been working on peat for nearly ten years now,” she added. “There’s a really good video series that NatureScot created, that the operators will sit down and watch, and we’ll talk through the techniques. But realistically, until they get into that digger and onto the peat, they don’t know everything.

“You find it’s very personal. Some people take to it like a duck to water; some people go out on it and never want to be on it again! That’s fine. Because the business is nuanced, we’ve got different avenues. We need to have that variety. We’ll get a phone call one day from somebody wanting to build a road, a call the next day from someone who needs you to go and rescue something that’s stuck, then the next week somebody wants you to fix a peat bog. Having that wide variety of experience is needed.”

Equipment versatility is also paramount. Fraser revealed that Vicky was instrumental in designing an excavator bucket that has been configured to effectively adapt to the demands of the work being carried out.

“When you’re ripping a stump out to turn it over, if you’ve got a digging bucket 56-inches wide on a 20-tonner, you’re pulling a lot of ground with it,” Fraser said. “What we’ve got with this bucket Vicky’s designed is only two teeth in the middle, which would be like a narrow bucket, but with the benefit of the wider bucket further up to handle the stump when you’re turning it. It’s just another add-on for innovation.”

As well as the environmental side, AMD remains heavily focused on its core activities such as forestry work, plant hire, and building forest roads and bridges.

To satisfy all this, and help alleviate the widely acknowledged sector skills shortages, the company has devoted a lot of time and effort into apprentices and training the next generation. Ten apprentices are currently on the books, ranging from the workshop to operatives in the field. The company also has its first graduate apprentice, who is training to become a quantity surveyor.

Quarrying also remains a priority following a substantial investment in machinery including jaw crushers, cone crushers, loading shovels, and a screener. AMD took over the lease of a quarry in Upper Nithsdale and bought its own local sand and gravel pit, which is leased to a third party for now.

Explaining the decision behind having such variety, Fraser recalled the impact of the financial crash in 2008 and the importance of not having all the firm’s eggs in one basket.

“The environmental side is a big thing to the business, and we see it as a step forward,” he said. “It’s to give us continuity in the business. Housing’s went off the edge of the cliff for some. I remember 2008 when we had 16 machines put off (sites) one Friday.”

Despite the growth of AMD’s operations, the business remains firmly rooted in family values. Fraser’s wife Mary is financial director and is also qualified to drive a low loader, while daughter Bethany is a lorry driver within the firm.

The company is also continuing its interest in motorsport, which began in 2017 when AMD sponsored Irish racer Richard Kerr, who last year became the British Superstock 1000cc champion while representing AMD Motorsport. AMD general manager Stephen Thompson is also involved in tarmac rallying, competing in events around the country with the highlight of the year being the Tour of Mull in October.

“My lifelong passion has been motorbikes,” Fraser said. “I’m very proud of the fact that AMD became British Champions in 2023. It was huge for the business, I think. You can never quantify these things, but it got us noticed more. I just wish my father Albert Munro Dykes (Bert) was still here to see it as he was another motorbike man. It was fantastic.

“We’re still supporting Richard Kerr, although AMD Motorsport as a team will no longer be competing in the British championship because he’s chosen to go to America and compete out there (in MotoAmerica Superstock 1000). That’s a huge thing.

“We’re also providing financial support to KTS Racing who run Jamie Coward. Jamie is one of the frontrunners at the Isle of Man TT. We also sponsored Paul Bird Motorsport in recent years. Paul sadly passed away last year but his son Frank Jnr and daughter Jordan have taken it on, re-branding the team PBM Racing and are going to make their stamp, I think. AMD are continuing with this support also.”