FIVE miles along a rough forestry track north of Eskdalemuir and
you come to the old steading at
For the Toyota pick-up, driven by
Douglas Mathison of Agriforest, the drive through the landscape of sitka spruce is easily negotiated.
The short journey ends at the junction of the track leading to the house, still occupied, reached by a short walk over a sleeper bridge.
It feels like the middle of nowhere but the forest continues to stretch for many more miles, stands of conifers as far as the eye can, and can’t, see.
Douglas and his colleague, Dominic, are currently working on a six-hectare site, split into two lots, this small plantation being typical of the woodlands
Agriforest specialises in after finding a niche in the market.
It is expected to yield between 1,500 to 2000 tonnes of timber but their contracts range from 50 tonnes up to 11,500 tonnes.
They are visiting regular contractor James McMartin of Stirling who is harvesting the crop which is destined for James Jones, Forest & Garden and A W Jenkinson, all in Lockerbie, a short distance away.
Douglas is Borders born and bred and is now based near Walkerburn.
He initially trained and worked as a tree surgeon for an established Borders business, later attending the Scottish Agricultural College and graduating with a degree in rural business management.
This led to a position with Euroforest, a large national timber harvesting company, as a manager.
He set up Agriforest Ltd in 2016 with the intention of catering for landowners and farmers who have a small woodland and want it to be removed.
Agriforest has contracts all
over the country from Lochgilphead and
Crieff to Eskdalemuir and into
Douglas says woodland owners often don’t appreciate that they can make money from their trees being removed and are surprised by the results.
He visits all the woodlands and draws up a plan from applying for the felling licence from Forestry and Land Scotland and felling to replanting.
The sitka spruce trees at Langshawburn are about 50 years old so they’ve been around much longer than is normal for a conifer plantation.
Douglas admitted that it was not the easiest site to work on and one of the biggest challenges they faced was getting the harvester on to the site.
He hoped it would dry out after all the rain in February which had made conditions even harder for felling.
Once the timber is ready for removal by the forwarder, a bridge will be built over the small burn behind the steading and another over the bigger burn which is in front of it and leads to the main track out of the forest.
Mostly, woodland owners approach Douglas about a job.
He said: “The owner here approached a planting contractor I work with and he passed the work on to me.
“To reach this site, we have to use Kronospan’s tracks but there’s usually no problem negotiating that.
“When I first come on to a site, I have to look at the access for the lorries and whether I can use existing tracks and whether there are power lines.
“I also need to consider the environment, like badger setts and the birds’ nesting season. We checked this site and there were no nests. There weren’t any red squirrels; they don’t like sitka or Norway spruce.
“I first looked at this site in the autumn and we’re here in March. Getting permission is fairly straightforward.
“By the time we finish here, the planting season will be over so we’ll get the ground prepared for replanting in the autumn.
“The roots of the felled trees are left in. The argument against removing them is that it causes soil erosion and, if they’re left there, they provide some nutrients. People have tried it but it doesn’t really work.
“All the brash will be removed. It tidies up the site and makes replanting easier.”
Replanting won’t merely mean another plantation of sitka spruce, according to Douglas.
“We have to plant with a degree of
diversity now. It’s part of meeting the conditions of the felling licence.
“We have to include other conifers and broadleaved species like birch, oak and rowan around the edges to make it look more attractive.
“At the moment, we plan to replant the same area; we haven’t decided yet whether to expand the woodland and do a new scheme. The land is no longer used for grazing and hasn’t been for many years.”
Douglas said the price of timber was excellent last year and reached a peak.
“There were a number of contributing factors to it being profitable, including a huge demand from the biomass industry which pushed up prices generally.”
Agriforest uses all the timber from the woodlands where it fells. The long lengths go to James Jones Ltd, the short lengths to Forest Garden and the shavers to A W Jenkinson.
Pieces which are too large for
other processors go to the sawmill at Rammerscales near Lockerbie.
Douglas added: “This site is a good example of the different kinds of products being made and this adds value to the timber for the owner.
“There are a lot of decent-sized trees and there is good height on them as well as quality.”
Saw logs have to be of a certain grade and James sorts them into piles depending on their final destination.
Douglas said: “He will match what I want to come out of it and what we’ve agreed with the client but we try to exceed that if we can and, generally, we do.
“Prices have dropped back this year but the key thing I get across to people is to have as many options as possible and not supply only one outlet.
“The selling point of our business is we’re not an end-user. We’re cutting it for the highest bidder.”
James starts up the harvester and it makes its way up the steep slope, using a track he has made from the brash and from where he can access the next batch of trees.
He estimates he can cut 150 tonnes a day. The harvester, through its on-board computer, will measure the lengths of logs before cutting them, having stripped the trees of their branches while they are held in place.
It’s very accurate and enables James to cut the timber to specific requirements.
Douglas said: “It’s about getting as much as you can get out of the crop.”
The business very much depends on the throughput at the mills. If their production drops, so does the work of the people who fell the timber and it can happen quite quickly.
Douglas added: “It’s either a feast or a famine.”