Industry is a growing benefit to Scotland

Your article, Timber probe refused, in last week’s Southern highlights the concerns of Ettrick and Yarrow Community Council primarily in relation to the use of the Potburn-Ettrick road by timber lorries extracting timber from the valley.

Forests planted in the valley 40 years ago have been growing quietly on the hills, absorbing carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen, protecting the soils, growing timber and providing habitat for wildlife and recreational visitors. The forest and timber industry supports some 40,000 jobs in the UK producing the timber and paper products we need every day. Our forests absorb approximately 10 million of Scotland’s annual 70 million tonnes of CO2 emissions.

Like traditional farms, most forests produce a harvest. Because of the timescales involved, these harvests are not gathered every year, but rather every 30-50 years once trees have reached the required size for efficient sawmilling. Government incentives during the early 1970s encouraged much of the forest development seen in our valleys today. While foresters seek to spread out the process of harvesting and replanting the forest crops, there is inevitably a sharp increase in timber harvesting as the new forests start to become productive for the first time.

Fragile rural roads are often an early casualty of this process and the rural communities who share these roads are the most acutely affected. In this way, the concerns described in this article are not new and are repeated in rural communities across the country.

For their part, foresters recognise the difficulties these issues bring. They too rely on the use of the same fragile access roads.

The Borders, in common with most other regions of Scotland, has a timber transport group which provides a forum for local authorities and communities to engage with foresters in an attempt to find constructive solutions to the problems associated with timber transport. The Scottish Government has acknowledged these issues as well with some modest funding available for projects which seek to mitigate the effects on rural communities. The improvement work recently completed nearby on the B709 Ettrick-Eskdalemuir road is a good example of this.

When debating such issues, use of accurate information is important. The article refers to an anticipated 400,000 lorry loads of timber coming out of the valley over the next 20 years or an incredible 108 lorry trips per day. These figures are substantially inaccurate.

A strategic report commissioned by Scottish Borders Council looked at timber transport issues in the wider Craik Forest area. This report identifies use at a maximum average level of five loads of timber per day on this road. This calculation is based on use of the road over just eight months each year, a measure already agreed by local foresters in an attempt to minimise winter damage risks.

Local foresters will be meeting councillors and members of the community in the valley soon in an attempt to minimise the effects of the increasing harvest from these forests.

Where forests have been in existence for hundreds of years, they become cherished parts of our countryside, valued and supported by local communities. Witness the debate south of the border as England considers the future of Forestry Commission forests.

Given time, and good co-operation between the people involved, the new forests planted in the early 1970s and 1980s will eventually become the same important assets in our local countryside.

Simon Oldham

(chairman, Borders Timber Transport Group)