Field Notes: The cavalry has arrived

Skye conservation ranger Cathryn Baillie reports on the difference low-impact iron horse-power is making to their forestry work

Iron horse with sitka 0819 detail

With over 12,000 hectares of land to care for here on Skye, there is never any shortage of work for our small team. The recent arrival of our newest piece of equipment - the iron horse (a pedestrian controlled tractor with tracks for handling timber) - was gratefully received and immediately put to work in our woodlands.

Ringhill West low impact silviculture system 0819Ringill West (pictured above) is being managed under a low impact silviculture system with the aim of gradually transforming this 17ha of Sitka spruce plantation into broadleaved woodland, restoring natural processes and re-establishing the ecosystem.

Ringhill West brashing and thining 0819 We are brashing and thinning to allow light into the forest floor and have errected several exclosures in the hope of protecting the natural regeneration of native trees. Our new iron horse has meant the sensitive extraction of fuel wood for the local community can now begin and we have made a start on improving access to previously felled areas, to assist with the management of deer within the woods.

Ringhill West natural regeneration 0819
Despite being in the early stages of using this management system, we are already seeing the benefits of letting light into the forest floor. It's creating a marked difference to the dark and silent conifer plantation of previous years.

Car park work starts

This month also sees work begin on improving facilities at one of our busiest sites on Skye. Bla Bheinn is a beautiful and imposing Munro on the edge of the Black Cuillin, and a popular destination for visitors.

Bla Bheinn car park full 0819Unfortunately visitor numbers can cause a great deal of pressure on the area, with numbers of wild campers increasing year on year. Roadside verges are being eroded and roads are often blocked by poor parking choices, the problem of pollution in the form of litter and human waste are an increasing worry.

In an effort to improve the situation we have begun works to increase the capacity of the car park, from 16 to 34 vehicles, and install two composting toilets on site. We hope that this will make a big difference to the experience of visitors, reducing congestion and helping to keep the area clean.   

Bla Bheinn car park work starts 0819
Once again the iron horse was on hand to assist. We cleared an area of Sitka spruce that will soon become part of the new extended parking facilities, quickly and without unnecessary ground disturbance.  
We will continue to make the most of our new purchase and hope that it will be a major contributor to future projects in our woodlands and around the Skye properties in general.

Photos by Cathryn Baillie show our new iron horse being put through its paces and a couple of the sites that it is helping to transform