Logging with Horses@ Huntly

Until today I had never seen logging with horses. In a past life I managed some woodland in the shire and, as you do, I took to cutting down the odd tree or two. In fact, it may have been the odd hundred or two, but who’s counting. I did of course replant ten times or so of what I harvested so the resin-stained guilt is easily assuaged. There is a woodland at Pitcaple which should really bear my name. But that is another story.
The power-saw was my weapon of choice and I owned a good few of these smoking beasts over the decades. The worst were those dreadfully noisy American made Presidents. They were forever overheating and suffered from poor design and an utterly appalling centre of gravity. Trump-like, they huffed and puffed between services. And Trump-like they were never ever up to the job power-wise. Big broad cutting chains and poor oil-feeds don’t mix and I soon moved on to chainsaw heaven in the form of Andreas Stihl and Son. At least the Germans take care to ensure that their murderous tools are fit for purpose.
I digress as always.
The biggest challenge when logging is the art of retrieving felled trunks from the forest floor. It’s all very well cutting the buggers down, but if you can’t move them to the roadside then all is pretty much lost. Leaving felled timber in-situ is all very well if all you are needing to do is encourage re-generation. But, in the big world of profit and loss, such benevolence is at best a rarity.
Enter the timber-harvester and the timber-forwarder. Machines devised solely to chop em’ down and extract em’ as fast as possible leaving maximum devastation in their wake. Then, of course, there is the horse.
In days gone by there were no powered-harvesting machines. Cross-cut saws and manpower were the order of the day and horses were used to drag the timber to the roadside. Romanticism aside, let’s not pretend that the life of a timber-horse was sublime, it all made sense in an industrial age of pit-ponies and donkey rides on the beach. Today however there is a revival of the horse drawn logging process. It’s not likely to make fortunes for those Bill Gates amongst us and it’s not likely to replace the industrial might of the timber-harvester.  But, in ecologically sensitive situations such as Battlehill at Huntly, horsepower has indeed made a comeback.  The plantation at Battlehill is a mixed one with old established Beech and Oak mixed with over-tall spruce and some newly planted Birch. Careful thinning is needed to maintain both diversity and amenity value so a liberal application of brutal industrial forestry extraction is out of the question.
So today I re-visited Battlehill to see the logging horses in action. Northern Swedish by breed and named variously Jasper and Pallero, they made quite a show of it. Walkers and passing children constantly stopped to say hi and it was hard to imagine how, in this day and age, the operators could make a decent living lugging timber from the forest at a 19th century rate of knots. God speed is all I can say.

Duncan Harley is the author of ‘The A-Z of Curious Aberdeenshire’. Available from Amazon, Inverurie Whisky Shop and all good traditional bookshops.


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