by Frankie Woodgate
Woodland type and silviculture: Management of ancient semi-natural woodland should be low-impact, with natural regeneration as a major objective (Forestry Commission 1997). Horses meet these criteria, offering an extraction method that has little impact on soil structure or floral diversity. Horses are also highly manoeuvrable, allowing timber to be extracted without damaging coppice stumps, standing crops or natural regeneration.
In high-quality timber stands the manoeuvrability of horses allows the removal of selectively-felled trees, without damaging the remaining crop. Horses are also beneficial where access to a stand is restricted, their minimum width requirement being as little as 1m. This is also an advantage in neglected and overstocked stands where an initial heavy thinning can increase the risk of wind throw. In amenity and urban woodlands, where public access is encouraged, horse logging offers a service that minimises air, soil and noise pollution, and has a positive visual impact.
Operational requirements: The way in which felled timber is prepared and presented is of the utmost importance and can significantly affect extraction rates. Timber must be correctly snedded and all extraction routes should be clear of brash. With pole-length timber all butts should be stacked on bearers, facing the extraction route. Cordwood should be correctly and safely stacked. Poorly presented and prepared timber can increase loading times, significantly reducing productivity; as such prior consultation between the extraction contractor and cutters is advisable.
Equipment and Output: Horse drawn timber extraction systems begin with traditional draught bar and chains, moving on through the timber arch, which increases load capacity by partially suspending the timber, to forwarders fitted with hydraulic cranes. All of these equipment types can work effectively and sensitively, complementing exacting management objectives. On distances less than 150m and in steep terrain, skidding with draught bar and chains costs 32-54% less than farm tractors (Waterson, 1993), while the timber arch increases the effective extraction distance to 400m. Distance is virtually unlimited with forwarder units. Output rates depend on site, product and equipment, ranging from 10-40 m3/day.
Horse loggers do not aim to compete with mechanised extraction systems; horses can complement machinery. Working alongside mobile sawmills, horse and machine combine to provide a low impact method of on site roundwood conversion.
Come and learn this fantastic method of extraction on a three day course 13-14-15 May. Facilitated by Plumpton College, telephone 01580 879547 to book or for more information.
Frankie Woodgate offers a professional horse-logging contracting service, based near Ashford, Kent.
Sylvan Environmental. Tel: 01233 850347. W: www.sylvanenvironmental.com
For further information contact the Chair of ‘British Horse Loggers’, Doug Joiner (01531 640236). W: www.britishhorseloggers.org
or the Forestry Contracting Association (0870 042 7999). W: www.fcauk.com
References: Waterson, J (1993) “The Draught Horse in UK Forestry”. Quarterly Journal of Forestry 88 (4); Forestry Commision (1997) “The Management of Semi-natural Woodland” Forest Authority Forestry Practice Guide 3 – Lowland Mixed Broadleaved Woods. HMSO.