A group from the Highlands and Islands is to travel to Austria this month (June) to learn from experts how to harvest timber in some of the most difficult and challenging conditions.
The trip is organised by the Highlands and Islands Forest Industry Cluster (HIFIC), which is funded by HIE, and in conjunction with Forest Enterprise.
There are large areas of standing timber in the Highlands and Islands in particularly challenging locations which are now ready for harvest and will make an important contribution to the local timber supply chain. As the market is developing and the price of timber continues to rise, it is now becoming more economically viable to consider harvesting from some of Scotland's harder-to-access areas.
The group will spend five days visiting the Gmunden and Styria regions of Austria. Participants will look at practical examples of harvesting techniques, the equipment utilised, how to minimise the ecological impact in difficult terrain and visit one of the leading producers of equipment - Mayr Melnhof.
Claire Wightman, a third year HND student at the Scottish School of Forestry will join the group, with funding assistance from the Highland and Islands Conservancy in Dingwall. Claire will provide a presentation on the outcomes of the trip at a future HIFIC event.
Claire said: "It's brilliant to be given this opportunity to go and visit Austria and see how the Austrians are dealing with conditions that very soon Highlands and Islands contractors will be forced to deal with."
Also participating in the trip is Calum Duffy from the Isle of Mull. Calum is one of very few contractors in the area who is actively working with small scale winch operations in difficult areas.
Calum said: "This is a great opportunity for me to gain expertise with larger scale winch operations and will help me to plan future investment in my own contracting business. I am extremely grateful to HIFIC and the Perth and Argyll Conservancy for providing the funding to enable me to participate in this trip."
Neil Stoddart, Chairman of HIFIC said: "Once again the Highlands and Islands can be proud that we are leading the way in developing innovative technical solutions. I am sure the team will come back with new contacts, ideas and techniques that can be rolled out to maintain timber production from the more difficult Scottish forest sites over the coming years."
Andrew Patience, senior development manager in HIE's energy team, said: "It has been over a decade since it has been economical to undertake steep-ground harvesting, so it's important that today's young foresters and new contractors develop the skills to unlock this increasingly valuable timber resource.
"With one-third of Scotland's timber on steep ground, this trip to Austria is a fantastic opportunity to share and learn new techniques, and will be critical to reaching a significant amount of Scotland's timber stock."
The Highlands and Islands Forest Industry Cluster aims to promote good practice, raise awareness of common issues, increase co-operation within the forest industry and look for innovation to improve efficiency. Established in 2005, the cluster has delivered over 15 events throughout the region with over 550 attendees from the sector.