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Horse logging, the traditional tool for the future

Logo: British Horse Loggers

By Steffi Schaffler, Teamwork Horse Logging

Horse pulling a trailer of logs (Steffi Schaffler)
(Steffi Schaffler)

The British Horse Loggers (BHL) are an independent national body formed to represent and support those either working horses in forestry or anyone interested in the art of horse logging and supporting the skill.

Our aim is to promote horse logging as a viable and sustainable option within the modern forestry industry, showcasing the benefits to both our woodlands and our horse and continuing to use and pass on a traditional and important skill.

Horse pulling logs out of woodland with a person watching in a hi vis jacket (Steffi Schaffler)
(Steffi Schaffler)

Horse logging offers an efficient flexible approach to timber extraction with a wide range of both traditional and modern equipment available. The horses can work through the full range of woodland operations from first thinnings through to extracting the final crop. They are a low impact and sympathetic tool particularly when it comes to the management of ancient woodland and archaeologically important sites.

Working horses are ideally suited to environmentally sensitive areas where mechanical extraction is either not welcome or cannot access without excessive damage. Horse logging can work efficiently alongside a tractor operation if necessary. The use of horses minimises damage to existing crops, coppiced stools and areas of regeneration. They also have the option to work in small areas where felling to provide an extraction route can be kept to a minimum. It reduces compaction and damage to the woodland floor whilst giving no pollution from fossil fuels.

Horse waiting to pull logs out of woodland (Steffi Schaffler)
(Steffi Schaffler)

Working horses in the forestry system that exists in Britain today can be a challenge as the system is geared towards mass extraction and speed. Horses come in at the other end of the scale but bring such benefits that often the positives make it a valuable choice for many owners. Particularly private landowners can see the long term benefit of not ever clear felling sites and damaging the soil for the next generation. In times of climate change soil erosion and compaction play a big part in loosing carbon. Working horses to avoid this we are making sure the future forest can survive the challenges coming towards us. Soil compaction is a major factor in creating problems like poor growth in trees either freshly planted or standing with damaged root system. It causes rain water to run off much faster causing flooding and erosion. In dry periods compacted soil does not hold a lot of water causing drought stress on stands (seen in many European countries over the last years) Horses, weighing one tonne rather than 30 and not having wheels that smear the surface create mini compaction that is a fraction of the machine. It also avoids creating ruts for water to flow off in. Feet stepping on different areas every time will only compact the soil for a few centimetres down. After a short time the soil and ground flora recovers aiding regeneration of tree seeds and so helping the regeneration of natural woodlands. Big forestry machinery has been seen causing compaction and destruction of forest soils that has so far never been seen to recover at all.

Sites horses have worked on will need no preparation for planting at all, often saving money on not needing to bring infrastructure into the forest and so can be an efficient forestry tool.

Woodland we often work in are in the category of continuous cover forestry as horses do not need tracks to get in and so can extract timber entirely on quality not on rack or line thinnings. In these systems it is of major importance not to damage the crop left behind, trees left to grow on to their full potential. Horses, being much more flexible than winches and other equipment, can ensure the final crop is left undamaged.

Horse pulling hard to extract logs from woodland (Steffi Schaffler))
(Steffi Schaffler))

Horses can be used to work in different application like crane forwarders and timber arches to ensure most efficient work and speed up the process. Other woodland services include bracken rolling with horses and scarification of woodland floors to aid regeneration.

There is a number of professional horse loggers all round Britain, most of them registered on the approved contractors list of the BHL. These are people with years of experience in the industry and skills with both the horses and woodland management. Most people use full services of felling, extraction and long term management. Often work gets undertaken in teams bringing together all the skills needed for particular sites.

The BHL offers practical support in many forms both to members already working horses in woodland environments and to those wishing to begin. We are teaching courses for people wanting to enter the industry in a serious way and offer longer term support in traineeships to people starting up. The BHL is represented at the big forestry and arb shows like CONFOR and APF to reach out to a wider audience and create work opportunities for horses.

More information and to find contact details for a local horse logger please visit www.britishhorseloggers.org

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