Downside of Ettrick timber

I write in reply to last week’s letter from Simon Oldham who, as chairman of the Borders Timber Transport Group, tries to show that the forests are wonderful things to behold when, in fact, this is far from the truth.

It is true that the fertile hill lands of the Borders were ploughed up 30 or 40 years ago and the trees planted have been growing and been absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. However, the Sitka spruce trees are planted so close together that it is difficult for sunlight to find its way through to the woodland floor so few plants can grow underneath them and only foxes and deer can take advantage of any shelter they provide. Humans and other wildlife species are excluded from the forest floor.

Turning to the fragile roads, during a meeting at the local village hall before the Upper Ettrick was afforested, a spokesman from the local authority assured residents that the roads would be upgraded to cope with the demands of the harvests of trees. This promise was clearly broken and they are currently doing this only because the roads are disintegrating. This is costing the ratepayers and the timber transporters several million pounds.

It is interesting to note that for 40 years prior to the timber harvesting the roads were perfectly adequate. However, Simon Oldham accepts that the lorries damage the roads by pointing out that timber extraction is limited to eight months a year in an attempt to minimise winter damage.

It is therefore worth reporting that the Potburn road had disintegrated after only a few weeks’ use by timber lorries last summer. Timber extraction from the Nether Phawhope and Potburn forests provided several times more lorries each day than the five intimated. It should be a simple matter for the Timber Transport Group to calculate how many lorries a day are required to harvest a forest. I would like to see what their projection is, given that harvesting is going on in several places in the area.

Roads that are severely damaged by logging lorries are a real danger to other users. Those who have to use the Potburn road risk expensive damage to their vehicles. It is worthy of note that they welcomed the very cold weather as it froze the puddles in the potholes, some as deep as a wheel, providing a much smoother surface!

We are very concerned that a logging lorry will be involved in a serious incident on this metalled farm track, which is not built for 44-tonne juggernauts. The road is subsiding in several places, particularly where there is steep banking.

The only forests that become cherished parts of our countryside are those that have been in existence for several hundred years for they grow indigenous species, not Sitka spruce.

If the new forests followed those lines, I am certain they would be welcomed. Sadly they are not. The forests put in 30 or 40 years ago have stifled wildlife, destroyed local communities, destroyed archaeological sites, polluted salmonoid spawning grounds and exacerbated flooding.

We were assured that the new forests would be more sympathetic to the environment, yet the assurances given to the Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council in this respect to date have not been adhered to. We were assured that no ploughing would take place, yet the two forests being put in are being ploughed. Our roads are subject to more flooding because of the forestry works. It is no wonder the community is upset by the forestry industry.

We look forward to discussing these issues at a meeting in the Boston Hall, Ettrick, at 7pm on Monday.

Gordon Harrison

Vice-chair, Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council

I am bitterly disappointed by the complacent response by Simon Oldham, chairman of the Borders Timber Transport Group, to concerns about the effects of forestry and the extraction of timber on the Upper Ettrick Valley. It is important to respond to some of his misleading comments.

Some years ago, the residents of the Ettrick Valley were reassured by the council that the roads would be upgraded to cope with timber extraction. This has not taken place and the damage done by fully-loaded 44-tonne lorries and trailers is immense. Major repairs and upgrading of passing places is taking place on the B709 to accommodate these huge vehicles, but the unclassified road to Potburn remains a major accident risk.

Mr Oldham acknowledged the damage done by these huge vehicles stating that timber extraction avoids the winter months. He also suggested that the number of trips were approximately five each day. This is not accurate, particularly when lorries were going up and down to Nether Phawhope and Potburn – try 10 trips per day!

Damage to the Potburn road by timber lorries, winter weather and poor maintenance is a real danger to all other road users. Residents are very concerned that our vehicles will be damaged and that a timber lorry will be involved in a serious accident. The potential for a lorry overturning is immediately obvious at several places where the edge of the road has disappeared.

The errors of 30 to 40 years ago are being repeated with two access roads being constructed for new planting to take place. In spite of earlier reassurances, the hillsides are being ploughed – further flooding is inevitable and the roads plus their drainage have not been upgraded.

These issues will be discussed in the Boston Hall, Ettrick, at a meeting at 7pm on Monday.

I trust Mr Oldham will find time to drive the full length of the road to Potburn before the meeting, preferably in a saloon car.

Donald Macleod

Nether Phawhope