TRAINEES ON Scotland's latest Forest Machine Operator Skills Development course are now nearing the end of eight-weeks of intensive work that began back in January.

This practical course offers four training places addressing all aspects of mechanised timber harvesting and forwarding operations. Candidates are selected from people working in the forestry sector who demonstrate promise as forest machine operators.

This year's crop – Jake Richardson, Matthew Ralph, Aidan Fitzpatrick and Robert Cowie – started with two weeks’ intensive instruction at Barony, which included the use of machine simulators, then moved to a large harvesting site at Knockespan Forest for the remaining six weeks of the course.

The training on-site included hands-on working on both harvesters and forwarders as well as maintenance under supervision and instruction.

Jake works for Kingdom Farming in Fife and had previously done some work with chainsaws and forwarders. He said: “I have enjoyed the hands-on training. We have covered a lot of machine maintenance, which has been very useful, and I have learned quite a few tips for the forwarder. The course has been a great experience for me.”

Matthew from Aberdeenshire grew up in a rural community and developed a strong interest in land-based industries, particularly farming and forestry. He said: “I have been involved with practical farm work over many years and gained most of my work experience on farms. My father works in forestry so I have been to many forestry sites and have had experience of felling and processing trees but I wanted to gain more knowledge and get some certification. Working on the steep slopes has been challenging but it has been great learning more techniques that I can make use of going forward.”

UK Forest Products Association executive director David Sulman said: “We have been very pleased to work with SRUC’s Barony campus again, together with John Deere Forestry and Forestry Commission Scotland, on the successful delivery of another series in our pioneering and popular Forest Machine Operator Skills Development courses. The SRUC team have, once again, done a first-class job.”

SRUC training manager Rachel Fraser added: “I’d like to thank our instructor team for all of their efforts during the last six months, along with our partners for their unwavering support. The progress made, and skills and confidence gained by each of the trainees during the course of the programme is certainly rewarding for everyone involved. We wish them all the very best for their futures within this industry."

The trainees will be assessed this week under the Forest Machine Operator Certification scheme.