Road to success: the rewards of a 12-year investment Hamish Robertson details the management strategy that led to an excellent return for one forestry investor.
almoSt 12 years ago I received a call from a prospective client who was interested in purchasing a woodland as a forestry investment. He instructed us to value a number of properties and in 2009 was successful in the purchase of Barmark Hill Forest, near Corsock in Dumfries and Galloway. Barmark is a 237-hectare commercial plantation, which at the time comprised 90% Sitka spruce and 4% Japanese larch, all planted between 1984 and 1985. It had an existing right of access and 2,700 metres of forest road within it. Although the access road was not suitable for commercial timber haulage purposes and part of it was across third party land, the title reserved the right to upgrade the road to the standard required for timber haulage. Shortly after purchase we were delighted to be instructed to manage the property. Initial work involved maintenance to boundary dykes and scrub clearance from the forest road. Following this a timber measurement survey was undertaken which showed that the yield class range for the Sitka spruce was 6 to 20 with most of the crop within the 14 to 18 range. Having considered the survey ﬁndings, in consultation with our client, we decided it would be prudent to plan for timber harvesting to start around 2017. We prepared a long term forest plan and in February 2017 formal approval was given to fell 150 hectares in two phases between 2017 to 2026. To enable harvesting to proceed eﬃciently, a substantial road upgrade was going to be necessary, and we needed to make sure that the
The economy of scale and robust road infrastructure were major advantages when marketing this timber. upgrade was ﬁt for purpose. We engaged an experienced forestry civil engineer to inspect the access roads and advise on suitable upgrade speciﬁcations. We were reasonably conﬁdent that the site geology was such that we could win suitable rock for the roadworks within the site and the engineer conﬁrmed this. At this early stage we also consulted with the adjacent landowners to keep them fully informed of our proposals and both parties were very cooperative all the way through the process. Before work could start we had to apply for formal planning consent to upgrade the bellmouth access at the public road junction and prior approval for the necessary upgrade works to the access road and forest road. The Forestry Commission had previously conﬁrmed that an Environmental Impact Assessment would not be required for the roadworks.
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Unfortunately, during our meeting with the civil engineer we noticed that the larch had become infected with Phytopthora ramorum, a fungal disease that eventually kills larch. We revised our work speciﬁcations to incorporate biosecurity protocols. Although this was a signiﬁcant concern, this region of south-west Scotland had already been declared a “management zone”. Timber marketing restrictions and haulage movement licencing still applied, but statutory plant health notices did not. We put the roadworks out to tender to three local contractors and at a site meeting with all three contractors we agreed the best location for a blast to obtain rock for the road upgrade. By the time prices came in, we had obtained the necessary planning consents for the roadworks and the contract was duly awarded to GTR Contracts Ltd. We had to harvest just over a hectare of Sitka spruce from the borrow pit site before the blast could be carried out, and the timber was temporarily stacked out of the way of the impending roadworks. The roadworks began in August 2017. The formation was scraped to remove vegetation, side drains were cleaned out and silt traps installed at periodic intervals to reduce diﬀuse pollution risk. A blast and crush operation then followed to produce about 16,000 tonnes of crushed angular material. This enabled a saving of around £10 per tonne compared to importing road material from a commercial quarry. We were then ready to rock and roll. A Kirpy crusher was used along the main access track to provide ﬁner chipped material and a smoother running surface for the residents at Barmark house. A grader was used to camber the road and a vibrating roller consolidated the formation. Turning points and passing places were created where necessary. We project managed the road upgrade operation with the contractor, in compliance with CDM regulations and the main works were completed to a robust standard in November 2017. We communicated regularly with the neighbouring land owners whose access was aﬀected by the road upgrade and they were very helpful and tolerant. At the end of the job there was suﬃcient spare rock to allow for upgrading of the ﬁnal section of forest road at a later date. The timber that was harvested from the borrow pit site was dispatched to markets in November 2017 and the upgraded road stood up well to this test. In consultation with our client we decided that harvesting of the ﬁrst phase should start in 2018. To optimise value the timber would need to be certiﬁcated to the UK Woodland Assurance Standard. We began this process in April and were subsequently audited and achieved certiﬁed status on May 30, 2018. Concurrently we put the timber harvesting contract for the ﬁrst coupe (23 hectares) out to tender to seven timber harvesting companies. We received three oﬀers, two of which were very
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