If technology doesn't cut it, horses have a niche role to play in timber extraction
I am standing in a plantation of yield class 18-20 Sitka spruce planted a little over 20 years ago and considering the owner's options.
It's a fine stand of timber on a good, stable site with adequate access but it is not a feasible option to thin conventionally using a mechanised harvester because the site is simply too steep.
Earlier this year I looked at the site with a harvesting contractor who regretfully ruled it out, even though he had a new lightweight thinning machine.
We also gave some thought to tractor and winch but ruled that out as well. It's a pity as the stand would certainly benefit from thinning as soon as possible, so what other options are available to us?
The stand is part of a larger woodland in the same ownership and immediately adjoins an area of broadleaves.
The owner's ultimate intention is to replant the area predominantly with oak as the woodland is in a visible and scenic area, and is bordered along the lowest boundary by a well travelled secondary road.
In the meantime, the aim is to maximise the return from the spruce, which means carrying out at least one thinning if at all possible. When this stand comes ready to be clearfelled the timber will have to be extracted using a cable logging (skyline) system.
Again, the cost of cable extraction is uneconomical, certainly for a first thinning, and usually for subsequent thinnings as well.