A FERRY which once carried passengers around the Greek islands has found a new lease of life off the West of Scotland - transporting timber from remote coastal and island locations to markets on the mainland.

The 750-tonne vessel, which used to take tourists and locals through the Ionian Sea around Corfu, has been refitted and renamed Red Princess to fill a new role in Scotland's booming forestry sector.

Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse, smashed a bottle of champagne off the ship's hull in Troon this week, to launch a pilot project trialling the boat in its new role.

The Scottish Government's Strategic Timber Transport Scheme is supporting this pilot, which involves building timber storage areas and temporary 'bunds' at five forest locations in Argyll and Arran. These bunds should allow Red Princess's ramp to access the shoreline whatever the tide conditions.

The Troon Tug Company has invested £1.3m in Red Princess because of its ability to access the shoreline of remote coasts and sea lochs. It will deliver logs for use in construction and fencing to Troon Harbour, next to Adam Wilson and Sons' sawmill and a short drive from UPM Tillhill's Caledonian Paper mill and biomass plant, both of which are partners in the pilot scheme.

Mr Wheelhouse said: "Red Princess will enable around another 60,000 tonnes of timber to reach Ayrshire's wood processing sector each year. This is great news for supporting local jobs, growing stronger markets and boosting island and coastal economies.

"Across Scotland we have seen record harvesting levels and with timber availability set to increase, this project demonstrates an innovative solution to managing timber transport."

Confor chief executive, Stuart Goodall, commented: "This is a great service which helps reach productive forests too remote to access, and all credit to the Scottish Government for supporting such projects.

"If this timber wasn't harvested, it would simply blow down over time, which is bad for wildlife, bad for the Scottish economy and leads to lost income to the woodland owner."

The STTS is contributing £217,000 to the pilot - 50% of the cost of building the bunds and storage areas, with the remainder coming from the forest owners - which is expected to transport 118,500 tonnes of timber from the five sites over two years. A report will evaluate the pilot and if successful, it is hoped it can be rolled out over a wider area, with materials used to build the bunds recycled at different sites.

Red Princess complements the Timberlink coastal shipping service, which also delivers wood to Troon with funding from the Scottish Government. Timberlink collects from harbours in Argyll, while Red Princess will service forests other haulage cannot reach.

Troon Tug Company owner, Robin Taylor, added: "This is a unique solution. I've been involved in transporting timber around the west coast for many years and saw a gap in the market from remote areas where timber will not go to a pier because there is no road infrastructure and where the jobs are not big enough to warrant the installation of a floating pier.

"Refitting Red Princess to carry logs will fill this gap, as she needs minimal infrastructure on shore. There is considerable interest from the major timber users in the area and it ticks all of the green boxes - bulk transport by sea, fewer lorry miles and reduced carbon emissions."