The Institute of Chartered Foresters recently organised a harvesting and marketing study tour for its members to learn more about the challenges being faced across the industry and what actions are being taken to address them. Its Harvesting and Marketing Special Interest Group produced this report.

ON a sunny day in March forestry professionals from across the UK congregated in Lockerbie for the first harvesting and marketing study tour. 

Over the course of two informative days the group looked at various harvesting sites, listened to presentations on several topics and visited the James Jones sawmill.

The tour sparked some great discussion around multiple challenges faced by the industry, including community engagement, dispelling some of the stigmas surrounding commercial forestry and managing the many constraints that safely and responsibly harvesting sites can present.

 Presentations covered various subjects, including the streamlining of the sawmilling process.Presentations covered various subjects, including the streamlining of the sawmilling process. (Image: Supplied)

Although the main focus of the tour was on harvesting operations, it did lead to discussions on wider forest management challenges and land use within a wider context.


The tour started with an introduction from Neil McKay, chair of the South Scotland ICF regional group, before heading to the first site visit, to Castlemilk and Corrie Estates.

This visit, to an SPHN (Statutory Plant Health Notice) site at a traditional mixed estate, was hosted by woodlands manager Cat Kent, who discussed several constraints which the felling coupe presents.

The tour stopped off at a number of active harvesting sites and the James Jones sawmill in Lockerbie.The tour stopped off at a number of active harvesting sites and the James Jones sawmill in Lockerbie. (Image: Supplied)

Public access is a key consideration for any harvesting work, and many of the delegates in attendance spoke of the challenges they have faced when managing public access on felling sites, especially in high-recreation-use areas and when members of the public choose to ignore signage and physical barriers. 

Castlemilk has taken the approach of early engagement with the local community who use the forest for recreation, alongside increased signage and the presence of banksmen, having historically found this approach to work well for previous felling coupes within the area.

An overhead powerline (OHPL) and high-pressure gas pipeline run through the felling coupe. 

Through consultation with Scottish Power Energy Networks (SPEN) it was decided to extend the coupe to either side of the OHPL, so that SPEN’s infrastructure will be protected from potential windblow, alongside reducing the number of shutdowns required to restructure the woodland. The adjacent area will be restocked with shrubby broadleaf species, again in an attempt to limit future disruption to the network. 

Public access is a key consideration for any harvesting work – and occasionally brings problems.Public access is a key consideration for any harvesting work – and occasionally brings problems. (Image: Supplied)

The gas pipe will need to be crossed by the harvesting machinery. The most suitable crossing point was identified as the forest road, but it would need to be further protected by bogmats. Initially the investment of purchasing or renting bogmats was found to be substantial and no financial support was available through the gas network. Through further consultation it was agreed that the bogmats could be made in house on the estate’s sawmill and installed under the network’s supervision, which significantly reduced costs. 

The mitigation required for working in proximity to gas pipelines varies significantly between Scotland and England, and with it the costs, timeframes required to install mitigation measures and the amount of supervision required from the network whilst operations are active.

In the case of the Castlemilk SPHN, the estate has decided to use a local harvesting contractor and market the timber itself, with a significant proportion of the juvenile larch being used on site for its own sawmill and in-house fencing requirements, as opposed to the coupe being put out to tender.

It was discussed in depth how a tender, especially one with several constraints, should be presented to allow buyers and contractors to price the job effectively. It was agreed that clear information of the site, and any expectation for the purchaser to liaise with third parties, such as utility providers or managing public access on behalf of the landowner, should be clearly established and outlined in initial documents to facilitate pricing bids.

The group then visited Terra forest, part of Kronospan’s forestry portfolio in Eskdalemuir, hosted by Kronospan’s director George Birrell. The visit focused on the upcoming harvesting coupe and the impact harvesting techniques can have on restocking operations. 

Terra forest sits within a wider portfolio of 31 individual forest units and is well suited to growing commercial timber, due to the area’s high rainfall and soil types. Harvesting volume tends to sit around 600–650 m³/ha.

Like the previous site, the coupe presents several constraints which need to be considered when planning felling operations. In addition to the considerations addressed previously, the group also discussed wildlife constraints, access and post-harvesting operations.

Badgers, red squirrels, raptors and pine martens are known to be present within the vicinity. Prior to any felling operations, site surveys will be undertaken to ascertain if any protected species are present. Due to the age structure within the forest (the coupe being one of only two blocks left which hasn’t been restructured yet) and the timing of operations (scheduled to take place between March and September), the presence of raptors is a key consideration. As touched on before, it is important to communicate with purchasers and contractors any known constraints, including ecological ones such as nesting birds, so that operations can be priced and planned to include any mitigation measures. 

Ensuring forest roads are suitable for timber haulage prior to operations commencing is important, alongside identifying haulage routes within the forest and along local roads. Early engagement with the timber transport forum to confirm any restrictions or acknowledging that the purchaser is expected to liaise with the local transport officer can ensure that operations go smoothly and avoid any unnecessary conflict with local residents and road users. 

Terra forest and Tarras Valley made interesting harvesting sites to visit and explore.Terra forest and Tarras Valley made interesting harvesting sites to visit and explore. (Image: Supplied)

The condition of a site post harvesting and the impact on subsequent restocking operations was discussed, particularly regarding brash management. Discussion turned to the new UKFS requirements to increase species diversity and the value of brash recovery on the correct sites. The successful establishment of restock crops in the area is highly threatened by deer. Access for deer control is essential for establishing crops, particularly more diverse species, which are more palatable. If forwarder tracks are well maintained they can be utilised for ATV access across the site and help with establishment.

The final stop for day one was the Tarras Valley nature reserve. 

Tarras Valley is owned by the Langholm Initiative after a community buyout from the Buccleuch Estate. The group listened to presentations from Angela Williams, development manager at Tarras Valley, and David Biott, harvesting manager at Tilhill, on the recent harvesting operations at the reserve. 

The management aims of the 4,200-ha site are to connect the local community with the landscape, while providing climate solutions and sustainable land management through a community-led approach. A main focus is nature restoration, which includes the removal of Sitka spruce and the associated regeneration across the site. They recently worked in partnership with Tilhill Harvesting to fell a 36-ha spruce plantation which had sustained windblow damage during storm Arwen. It is hoped that the site can be left to naturally regenerate with native broadleaves and the income from timber will be reinvested back into the residential properties and farm buildings which are located on the reserve. 

Leading up to and throughout the operations extensive community engagement was carried out, with many local residents voicing concerns over the timber haulage from the site. Through consultation with the timber transport forum, local residents, Tilhill Harvesting and the haulier, a haulage management plan was put into place.  

As with the previous sites, wildlife constraints were a key consideration, with badgers, red squirrels and raptors being present on the site and felling work having to fit around mitigation measures to limit the disruption to them. 

After the presentations had concluded there was a discussion regarding the place of commercial forestry, particularly plantations which include Sitka spruce, in the wider landscape. It became evident that public perception of what commercial forestry is and what it contributes locally and nationally is a particularly emotive subject, and that information isn’t being communicated effectively enough to the public, particularly in regards to species diversification within forests, the impacts of forestry on carbon sequestration and the end uses of timber products.  

In the evening, David Leslie, joint managing director at James Jones, presented on the development of harvesting, forwarding, haulage and sawmilling. The group heard of the origins of early commercial forestry and how the industry moved from chainsaws and in-forest mobile sawmills to specialised harvesting and forwarding machinery with permanently based sawmills, seeing production become streamlined and more efficient. The talk finished on the further developments and refining of machines and sawmills which we are seeing today.

 The final stop was James Jones in Lockerbie.The final stop was James Jones in Lockerbie. (Image: Supplied)

Alongside increasing production, David also touched on the advancements of managing sawmills and harvesting sites to higher health and safety and environmental standards. 


Following on from the previous discussions on machinery development, Lewis Bowsher from John Deere ran a session with the manufacturer’s simulator. He ran through the recent innovations to increase the capabilities and productivity of harvesting and forwarding machinery and technological advancements regarding maintenance and production records. 

Tour members get to grips with John Deere’s forest machine simulator.Tour members get to grips with John Deere’s forest machine simulator. (Image: Supplied)

The final stop on the study tour was the James Jones sawmill in Lockerbie. The group heard of the company’s development and innovation within the sawmilling industry, both nationally and internationally. James Jones is putting significant investment into its sawmill and forest portfolios, opening a new site in Durham and acquiring land for further woodland creation. In light of the changes in species diversity requirements outlined in the UKFS, there was discussion on what the implications on sawmilling will be. The current demand from customers, including pallet markets, is for white wood. Developing buoyant markets and sawmilling techniques for red wood will be a key challenge to maximise the increase of diverse conifer species we will see coming to the market in the future. 

After the presentation, Rob McKenna and Euan Borthwick took the group on an informative tour around the sawmill, showcasing the scale of development and investment James Jones have put into streamlining the whole milling process and maximizing the products recovered from each log. 

Contributed by the ICF Harvesting & Marketing Special Interest Group:
Iwan Lloyd-Williams MICFor (Chair)
Director – DSH Wood
Euan Borthwick MICFor
Assistant Harvesting Manager – James Jones & Sons
Cat Kent
Woodlands Manager – Castlemilk & Corrie Estates
Emma Grey
Operations Manager – Scottish Forestry
Andrew Powers MICFor
Head of Land Management – Forestry England
Donald Beaton MICFor
Investment Manager, Harvesting – Gresham House