Harvesting Technicalities – Timber Challenges
Duncan Mackinnon, Tilhill Forestry’s Wood Energy & Development Manager, tells of the challenges that harvesting trees in remote areas of Scotland can present. There can be bodies of water to contend with and fragile roads that are unsuitable for large vehicles. This means that removing timber from these locations requires lateral thinking.
One of Tilhill Forestry’s key strengths is employing people who are determined to find solutions to difficult problems. This was definitely the case when it came to finding a low impact, sea-based solution to remove timber from Carrick forest. Building a pier to facilitate timber transport in a National Park had never been done before in the UK.
Carrick pier is one of five schemes in Scotland for which Tilhill has provided expert advice to forest owners enabling them to transport their timber to market in a cost-effective way.
This innovative project was a joint initiative between the forest owner, Tilhill Forestry, The Strategic Timber Transport Fund, Glennon Brothers Sawmill Company and vessel operator Troon Tug Company. Three members of staff from Tilhill Forestry led their respective areas: Wood Energy Development Manager Duncan MacKinnon on the planning aspects; Assistant Forest Manager Bryan Pearce on the construction and Ecologist John Gallacher on the environmental side of the project.
As well as generating income for the forest owner, the main benefits of the pier have been to reduce the impact of transporting timber on people, the environment and avoiding the use of the fragile road network that runs through several villages.
The pier at Carrick was by far the most complex of similar projects Tilhill has been involved with. Seven separate agencies were involved including: Crown Estates; Marine Scotland; Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park; Queen’s Harbour Master; Argyll and Bute Council (Roads and Environment); Scottish Natural Heritage and the Community Council. This led to 18 months of negotiations and required huge determination and diligence from the Tilhill team.
Duncan MacKinnon explains:
“Building on the sea bed is very different from building on dry land and approval has to be given by Marine Scotland. We had to employ a specialist marine planner to look at the impact of the structure on the seabed. There was also the complication of building in a National Park in a Marine Protected Area. Alongside this we had concerns from the local community that had to be taken into account.”
With a deadline for a Scottish Timber Transport Fund grant for 50 per cent of the cost approaching fast there was huge pressure on the Tilhill team to deliver.
“It was to the wire. We had planning permission for two years and had just a month left at the end to complete the construction before the grant deadline,” Duncan added.
Scottish Natural Heritage was also involved and surveys had to be carried out of the shoreline covering nesting birds and protected species such as otter. A marine survey of the footprint of the pier was also required and for this an expert marine ecology team was brought in to help. They used a diver to take photos and video.
Ecologist John Gallacher explains:
“It was the first time we’d been involved with anything under water. As the loch is a Marine Protected Area there are many restrictions on things like dredging. We also had to take into account the potential for adverse impacts on the Ocean Quahog – a rare, slow growing mollusc that lives in cold marine environments. We had to arrange an underwater survey of the seabed to check there were no Quahogs in the area. Everything was further complicated by the fact there was a military base nearby and we had to get permission from here for the divers to enter the water each time.”
Building the actual structure involved using a double layer of 2.6 tonne concrete blocks after first excavating the beach and laying a concrete foundation pad.
Assistant Forest Manager Bryan Pearce says the construction was:
“A little like using giant Lego blocks. Each one was drilled and then cemented in place using a resin and then a reinforced steel bar was used to fix them to each other and make sure they didn’t move. We then created four anchor points – two for the bow lines and two for the stern of the vessel which had to be positioned 25 metres from the edge of the pier. The bow anchor points were installed by digging down and using timber harvested from the site which had to be buried deep down in the beach. The stern anchors were drilled and cemented into the rock using the same resin,”
With tides to contend with and a rise and fall of 2.5 metres, building the pier wasn’t straightforward. It was specifically designed for a former ferry called the Red Princess which has a flat bottom allowing it to sit on the sea bed.
The design of the boat, which is able to carry up to 700 tonnes of timber each trip, meant it could be floated away once the tide came in.
Some 18,000 tonnes of timber has so far been removed from Carrick using the pier. The operation has now finished and the timber area has been restored. The local community has been offered the use of the pier. The stacking area has also been restored so it can be used by the public.
The beauty of this solution was that without the pier the value of the timber would have been significantly lower because of the increased haulage costs. So the customer is happy and the local community is happy.
The environmental disruption during the construction of the pier was minimal and the visual disturbance was limited as most of the construction was buried below the beach.
Getting the pier approved was incredibly hard work. Carrick was the last pier we built in the project giving us the advantage of being able to apply the lessons learnt from the others. Going forwards, the experience with Carrick willhelp with future projects. It was a case of being really determined, keeping going and finding a way to make it happen.
Benefits for the community
• Saved 760 loaded lorry journeys passing through Carrick Castle and parts of Lochgoilhead. (Under 30 ship loads).
• Saved 58,000 lorry miles, some on fragile single track roads.
• Saving of approximately 180 tonnes of CO2 equivalent in emissions.
• Reduced risk of road traffic accidents.