At the Association of Professional Foresters bi-annual show at Cannock Chase I met a couple of horse-loggers. These are professional forestry contractors who extract timber using horses. Karen Kilshaw and David Roycroft describe themselves as horse-loggers and they work full time with their horses doing a mixture of forestry tasks. Much of their timber extraction is done in the winter although they have recently finished a large contract of almost a year, working in the National Forest at Jackson's Bank where there were working with two other horse-logging teams. In the summer David and Karen usually are more likely to be demonstrating what they and their horses can do at shows and events or doing weed control and bracken bashing. Horse-loggers tend to be very passionate about their art but they have to be dedicated too - very often they stay overnight in the woods looking after their horses and, as Karen points out, often the conditions aren't much better for the people than the horses.
Why is horse-logging better for the woodland?
Asked what are the advantages of horse extraction rather than by using machinery, Karen explains, "horses have a lower impact on the woodland and cause less compaction of the soil, but they do scarify the ground which is good for natural regeneration. Also we can cover sensitive ground such as SSSI's (Sites of Special Scientific Interest). We can get up and down steep slopes which may be inaccessible to forestry machinery." Forestry contracting with horses is also people-friendly - public footpaths don't have to be closed and in fact people often come out into the woods just to watch the horses at work.
What are the economics? How much will horse-logging cost?
David and Karen charge £185 for a horse and handler for a day and typically can get 8-10 tonnes felled and to the roadside in that time.
What gets people into the world of horse-logging?
"We've found that horse-loggers are really brilliant and they welcome you into the business of working in woodlands with horses" says Karen. We first got into it when we saw Doug Joiner at the British Show and then we went on one of his courses for a week," remembers Karen. She now works with Ardennes horses which are both strong and good-natured. You can see a short film about Ardenne horses moving logs at: http://www.woodlandstv.co.uk/videos/watch/1/horse-logging
"Now we work with Bruno, a gelding, who is sixteen-one high. That means he's sixteen hands and one inch (each hand is four inches) and the height is measured at the "withers" which means it's measured from the bottom of the front foot to the point where his neck meets his back. We've also got Molly, a mare, but she's not working at the moment as she had a foal, called Stig, three months ago."
The Association of Horse-loggers, based in Ledbury, Herefordshire, and chaired by Doug Joiner, encourages the use of working horses and offers and runs an apprenticeship scheme as well as insurance for horse-logging contractors and encourages good animal welfare. The BHL has Prince Charles as its Patron and encourages membership by supporters as well as horse-logging contractors.
You can contact Karen and David through [email protected] or visit their website at www.david-roycroft.co.uk which has photo galleries and full contact details. Do you know anyone who has used horse-logging contractors?