A GALASHIELS forester has won a national award for his contribution to a Borders horse festival.
The British Horse Society (BHS) presented Forestry Commission Scotland’s (FCS) Iain Laidlaw with the prestigious Bodynfoel Award for outstanding services to the horse charity last year.
A charity spokesperson said: “The award recognises the work of the person who has done most to promote the society and it was given to Iain in honour of his valuable contribution to the BHS Borders Festival of the Horse. Iain introduced horse logging to the festival – a wonderful new attraction that has drawn more than 1,000 people to take part.
“In addition, FCS, under Iain’s leadership, has been a valued partner of the BHS by facilitating riding and encouraging recreation in the Borders’ forests over the years.”
Mr Laidlaw, FCS’s operations and development manager for south Scotland, said: “I’m delighted but as far as I’m concerned this award goes to all the forestry and horsey people in the Borders who have worked with us for several years now. All I’ve done is help to pull a few folk together and point them in the right direction. The results have been tremendous!”
Originally from Northumberland, Mr Laidlaw trained at the Scottish School of Forestry in Inverness and has worked for the Forestry Commission on both sides of the border for 25 years.
Based in Galashiels, he has been involved in the local Festival of the Horse of the last six years.
“I rode a bit when we were kids and my daughter, Heide, has a pony – I have always had a bit of involvement with horses, “ said the 47-year-old.
His festival contribution came about through local BHS chairwoman Ann Fraser, who also sits on the regional forestry forum.
“We [FCS] started off helping with the guided rides, helping to find routes through woodlands, then we had a few forestry folk come and speak to the riders about trees as they passed and then we introduced the horse logging demonstrations,” said Mr Laidlaw.
“We were looking for something a bit different to strengthen the links between horses and woods and horse logging was a natural progression. It’s not that far back that the Forestry Commission would have had its own horses, but now all the horse loggers are contractors.
“It’s something a bit different. People like to see horses working. It’s not something you see very much, horse loggers doing real commercial work – they are not just demonstrations.”
Festival-goers have seen professional loggers from Northumberland and Dumfriesshire at work at the Bowhill, Thirlestane and Monteviot estates.
Danny MacNeil, based in Kielder Forest, staged the first demonstration at Monteviot in 2008 and explained then: “Forest managers like horses because of their low ground pressure, where they don’t want machines to disturb the root system of trees. I work on picnic sites, sites of special scientific interest, anywhere where they don’t want the ground disturbing.”
Mr Laidlaw hopes new Borders horse logger Rab Erskine will show his work at this year’s festival with Mr MacNeil, the man who inspired Mr Erskine in his new trade after he saw Mr MacNeil and his horses at work in that first demonstration.
Mr Laidlaw said: “One of our aims was to encourage a few more people to get interested in horse logging in the Borders. It’s been rewarding to see Rab get started. It will be great to see the new team working with one of the more experienced logging teams at the festival in May.”