19 October 2023
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Tarzan the logging horse is commuting to work aboard a brand-new barge whose Gaelic name Each-Uisge translates as 'Water Horse'.
Together, they are part of efforts to remove timber from a remote area on the shores of Loch Arkaig and help restore a spectacular remnant of Caledonian pinewood and Scotland's rainforest. Part of the forest known as The Gusach is so remote that the only practical way to reach it is over the loch itself.
Back in the 1960s, the forest was planted through with non-native conifers. Now mature, these trees are crowding out the remaining pines and other native trees.
Henry Dobson, Estate Manager of Woodland Trust Scotland, said, "It has taken years of planning and preparation to get our barging scheme up and running, so it is very exciting to see the first loads of timber coming off. For the last two winters, we have successfully been removing non-native timber along a forest track from the easier to reach parts of the forest. But the remoteness of The Gusach has been a huge challenge to overcome. Building a track in would have destroyed a lot of the special habitats we are here to restore in the first place. So, we decided that the only acceptable route was over the loch itself."
For the next few weeks Tarzan and his handler Simon Dakin will take the barge in to The Gusach on Monday mornings, work and camp through the week before barging out again on Fridays.
Modern harvesting machinery is also being used but a horse is still best in some situations - where the ground is particularly steep or there are sensitive natural features. The disturbance left by a horse is ideal for trees to seed in naturally.
Three forestry workers will also be living and working in The Gusach over winter, with felling taking place at this time of year to avoid disturbing nesting birds and other wildlife during the breeding season. The forest is home to native species including red deer, ospreys, sea eagles, pine martens and red squirrels.
The state-of-the-art barge has been custom-built so that a forwarder laden with logs can drive onto its deck to be ferried across the loch to the roadside on the opposite bank. The use of such a barge is thought to be a UK first for timber transport over freshwater. Woodland Trust Scotland's ambition is to ultimately power it through an EV charger like an electric car - which will be a world first.
Players of People's Postcode Lottery supported the purchase of the site and the ongoing restoration - raising £1.8 Million so far.
A total of 70,000 tonnes of mainly Sitka spruce and lodgepole pine is being removed over five years so that the remaining native trees can reclaim the site with their offspring.
Laura Chow, Head of Charities at People's Postcode Lottery, said, "There is such a great opportunity at Loch Arkaig to restore a fully natural native woodland and all the amazing biodiversity associated with it. But it must be done while there are still some old trees around to produce offspring. It has taken considerable ingenuity to clear the non-native conifers, of which the barge is a great example. We are delighted our players are supporting this important and exciting work."
Woodland Trust Scotland bought the site in partnership with local group Arkaig Community Forest and together they are restoring the woodland and helping the local economy in the community of Achnacarry, Bunarkaig and Clunes.
Liam McLoone, Arkaig Community Forest chairperson, said, "Our community has created a tree nursery supporting three part-time jobs, growing locally-sourced native trees such as Scots pine, oak, birch, aspen and rowan. We have also set up a deer larder which supports two part-time jobs and supplies venison for local consumption. Timber milling in the forest has potential to create even more local jobs in the future. Working together with the Woodland Trust we are maximising the benefits for nature and people."