Woodland Management Articles

The Fall and Rise of Draught Horses as a method of Timber Extraction

by Frankie Woodgate

Frankie Woodgate owns and manages a 30-acre block of ancient semi-natural woodland in the Weald of Kent, where she undertakes all extraction work with horses.  She has many years’ experience in working and managing broadleaved woodland and holds a BSc (Hons) in Countryside Management.  Her BSc dissertation entitled “The Role of Draught Horses in the Forests and Woodlands of the UK”, was based on a 12-month research project sponsored by the Royal Forestry Society and Kent County Agricultural Society, and involved in depth case studies throughout the UK and Sweden. An article based on the research was published in The Quarterly Journal of Forestry (Vol 93 pp.229-306).

Horses have been used to pull timber from the forests and woodlands of the United Kingdom for centuries.  As recently as 1960, horse extraction accounted for 50% of the total national timber production (an estimated 0.65 million m3). At that time, some 400 horses were employed in Forestry Commission woodlands alone.

The decline of the working forest horse began after the Second World War as rising costs of labour and an increasing demand for home grown timber led to the mechanisation of extraction to cut costs and increase production.  The decline of the horse was so dramatic that by the mid-seventies the use of horses for timber extraction in the UK had virtually been consigned to the pages of forestry history.

 However, the last 10 to 15 years have witnessed a growing reversal of this trend. The relative advantages of horse drawn over mechanised extraction systems have begun to be recognised within the forestry industry.  Global and regional concerns with forest biodiversity and sustainable woodland management have prompted a reassessment of the role that horse drawn timber extraction systems can and do play in forest and woodland management.  Whilst mechanised systems have reduced the direct costs of forestry operations, the potential damage that mechanisation can inflict on the woodland resource and environment has become an important issue as the long-term costs have been recognised.

Horses are light, quiet and manoeuvrable. Their use minimises damage to natural regeneration, coppice stools and the standing crop; avoids compaction, ruts and damage to the woodland floor; and produces no exhaust or noise pollution. Horses are once again being worked within the forests and woodlands of the UK, undertaking a broad range of extraction operations on a variety of sites. Modern horse logging equipment has been developed that reflects and complements this diversity of woodland sites and timber products. Thus, as a sustainable management technique the use of horses combines the most vital elements of its history with the advantages of modern technology.

Come and learn this fantastic method of extraction on a three day course with Frankie - 13-14-15 May, course facilitated by Plumpton College, to book and for more information telephone 01580 879547 or email claire.gammon@plumpton.ac.uk

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

This article was posted on 4 September '09

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