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Tilhill Forestry and local community unite over chainsaw carving

Image 1A four-foot tall carving of a sea eagle is being presented to the South West Mull and Iona Development by Tilhill Forestry to celebrate the work that the two organisations are doing together in harmony with these majestic birds.

The community group took ownership of Tiroran Forest on the southern part of the Island of Mull in late 2015 after Forestry Commission Scotland took the decision to sell the forest. Tilhill Forestry was awarded the harvesting contract early in 2016 and also helps with managing the forest on behalf of the community.

Each year, Kilfinichen and Kilvickeon Agricultural Society holds an agricultural show in Bunessan which Tilhill Forestry actively supports. This year, Tilhill offered to commission a carving that would be created during the show and could be installed in the forest upon completion. One of the best chain-saw carvers in the UK, who also works for Tilhill Forestry, was asked to produce the carving.

Pete Bowsher, Harvesting Manager for Tilhill Forestry, carved a sea eagle from an oak log on the day of the show in August. Pete has been chainsaw carving for more than 30 years and is the current and eight times Scottish Open Chainsaw carving champion. He carves at numerous shows around the country from the Outer Hebrides, north east Scotland to north England and the Royal Highland Show.

The finished carving has been looked after by Bunessan Primary School children who have been drawing it as part of a competition. The children have named the eagle “Eilean” - the gaelic word for “Island”.

The sea eagle is the fourth largest eagle in the world, and is our largest bird of prey, with a wingspan of nearly two and a half metres. The white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) or sea eagle was driven to extinction in Britain earlier this century. Now, thanks to a reintroduction programme run jointly by Scottish Natural Heritage and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the sea eagle has returned to some of its former haunts. Sea eagles nest in Tiroran Forest and have to be carefully considered when forestry work is being carried out which is why Tilhill Forestry is working closely with the RSPB so that harvesting can continue without disturbing the birds.

Iain Moody, the local Harvesting Manager for Tilhill Forestry explains: “The relationship between the community, the RSPB and our team has worked really well. Each nesting season will see us liaising with the RSPB so our work can continue.

“The sea eagle is a very strong symbol for the area and many people come to the island to see them. The carving will be placed close to the hide that nature lovers use to view the birds. Community leaders are keen to improve access, recreation, education and wellbeing uses of the forest for the local community and visitors, while avoiding conflict with forest management and wildlife. Pete’s sculpture will complement the sculptures of giant heads made out of willow already erected in the forest.”

Tiroran Forest spans approximately 789 hectares and is a mixture of Sitka spruce, pine and larch mostly planted in the 1960s by the Forestry Commission. Tilhill Forestry is working to harvest the commercially grown spruce and plant more hard woods with the aim of making the area into a community woodland, increasing the diversity of the trees and generating income.

A spokesperson for the South West Mull and Iona Development said: “The forest needs to be able to generate sufficient income to pay off the Social Investment Scotland loan within five years. With the help of Tilhill Forestry we have recently submitted our Forest Management Plan to the Forestry Commission. This is an essential requirement for all owners of commercial forests and includes plans for felling, re-planting, encouraging biodiversity, the preservation of historic sites, generating a long-term income from the forest and developing amenity spaces for the public to access and enjoy the forest.”

Tilhill Forestry has overcome the challenges of extracting and transporting the timber from Mull with the use of a specialist lorry and trailer unit and a floating pier that enables the timber to be carried by ship. The company prides itself on using local labour whenever possible and the contract with the Mull community involves islanders being employed for both harvesting and haulage. This approach, combined with Tilhill Forestry’s management expertise, is resulting in a successful partnership.

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