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Horse logging on the Balmoral Estate

18th April 2013

The Prince of Wales, known as The Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland, during a visit to meet horse loggers on the Balmoral Estate where he also met landowners and forestry workers

The Prince of Wales, known as The Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland, during a visit to meet horse loggers on the Balmoral Estate where he also met landowners and forestry workers

The Prince of Wales promoted the benefits of using horses to extract timber from sensitive woodland sites today whilst on the Balmoral Estate

His Royal Highness witnessed "horse logging" in action in the forest near his private home in Scotland, Birkhall on Royal Deeside where the animals' skills were on show to a gathering of landowners and forestry workers.

The Prince is Patron of British Horse Loggers which encourages woodland managers to consider using horses, rather than machines, to remove felled timber from easily damaged forests.

Among those he met was Geraint Richards, head forester for the Duchy of Cornwall.

Mr Richards said: "The benefits of horse logging are numerous. Obviously horses can get places where larger machines can't get. They can weave between the trees so you can get to places you wouldn't normally with a machine. You don't need an infrastructure. You don't need lots of roads to get there.

"If the conditions are sensitive, if it's wet ground conditions, the horse can still travel when it would be foolhardy to take a machine in.  They're very versatile.

"You're also not burning diesel and there's minimal risk to water courses, so when they finish the job the footprint they leave is really minimal. Within a short period of time you will hardly know that they've been there."

The skill of horse logging has declined dramatically over the last 50 years, said Mr Richards who praised The Prince's efforts to rejuvenate "this incredibly important skill and tradition".

He said: "It does make business sense. We really do need a push in Scotland, where there's a huge amount of forestry, to encourage this skill."

His Royal Highness, known as The Duke of Rothesay in Scotland, looked on as two horses worked to bring felled timber out of the forest at Balmoral. 

Horse logger Billy Anderson, from East Lothian, was one of those working with the animals.

He said: "Machines can make quite a mess of the forest floor and cause a lot of debarking on some of the trees and residual stock gets damaged which you really want to minimise, especially in sensitive woodlands.

"There's more of an interest in horse logging now and I think that's due to The Prince's interest and his passion for it. He's a real driving force behind it.

"In this day and age we're going on to a greener way of living that's more sustainable, and fuel prices are hiking up, so there are a lot of benefits to the horse in the correct area."

Will Boyd-Wallis, land and conservation manager at Cairngorms National Park Authority, said he was impressed by what he witnessed.

"It's really inspiring. It's a very traditional thing but it can be brought into modern-day life, and there are real opportunities here in the National Park," he said.

"In the Cairngorms we've got some very sensitive sites which are of really high conservation value, and therefore we need to do everything we can to try and protect species: the wood ants and the capercaillie. Using horses could well be a really good way of doing that in certain situations."

Doug Joiner, Chairman of British Horse Loggers, said using the animals to help with managing forests can be cost-effective.

"It was a dying art but because we've been reviving it, it's actually on a resurgence," he said.

"We now run a three-year apprenticeship scheme to train people. What we've got to try and get back to is the idea that horses aren't old fashioned.

"It's not some sort of Luddite, retrograde thing that we're trying to establish. It's a practical, viable, vibrant use of an appropriate, renewable energy resource."