With extraction from Borders forests and woodland at record levels, the relationship between rural communities and the timber transport industry is at an all-time low, according to a senior councillor.
“A definite rift has emerged in recent years and, unless something is done, things will only get worse,” said Ron Smith, chairman of Scottish Borders Council’s planning committee, who represents the widely afforested Hawick & Hermitage ward.
He has stressed the urgent need for meaningful “stakeholder engagement” so that industry interests can take on board the myriad concerns of local people.
Councillor Smith was commenting after attending last week’s Scottish Timber Transport Forum biennial conference in Perth along with fellow ward councillor George Turnbull.
“The fact we were the only two councillors present out of 120 delegates tells you how strongly we feel about the impact of timber transport on our rural roads and the communities that depend on them,” Coun Smith said.
“The predominant theme at the conference was the need for stakeholder engagement to improve the relationship between forest owners, hauliers and people living adjacent to the forests.
“The theory is that a community which recognises that it gains economic benefit from extraction of timber or from the recreational and tourist use of the local forest is going to be more accepting of the disturbance caused to their lives.
“That may be the case in Argyll, Perthshire or the Highlands, but there is little if any evidence of it in the Borders where we only have a few small pockets with significant related employment.”
He added:“At meetings of our rural community councils, timber transport is a running sore and we see for ourselves the damage to road surfaces and verges, we hear about the problems of noise and convoying and of rural roads being blocked while stacked timber is loaded onto lorries.”
Mr Smith believes a starting point in reaching a compromise, if not a solution, would be for timber industry interests to hear for themselves the concerns of Borderers at public meetings and to then agree – and respect – timber transport management plans for specific areas.
“At the moment we have a voluntary protocol of hauliers using only ‘agreed routes’ but these are widely flouted and no action appears to be taken when such contraventions are reported,” claimed Mr Smith.
“This is a major bone of contention which needs to be resolved.”